Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Book Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Greetings readers! I just finished Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves and it is such a wonderful read and I’m struggling to find where to begin in discussing this fantastic novel!

Talley tackles many current controversial topics of social justice -- but in a historic setting. It's 1959, and Sarah Dunbar will be among the first group of black students to attend Jefferson High School, the local all-white school. Sarah, an honors student and avid singer at her old school, is barred from upper level classes and all extracurriculars. Other students constantly harass her and her friends to no end. But the worst treatment comes from Linda Hairston. Linda doesn't use force like many other students, but as the daughter of a segregationist local newspaper write, Linda follows in her father’s footsteps, writing in the school newspaper against segregation and the NAACP. Sarah and Linda clash when they are paired for a French project. In between working on the project, they argue and blame each other for the tumultuous changes that have been plowing through Jefferson High School, from the delayed start of school to the cancelling of the prom. Sarah condemns Linda for arguing with the “tradition” of segregation while not acknowledging the extensive racism that keeps whites and blacks separate, while Linda calls integrationists, the local NAACP chapter, and Sarah “agitators” for trying to rush change. But they both take the integration a little too lightly, and soon, white students begin to throw more than insults and people start getting hurt. Both Sarah and Linda are shaken up by their year at Jefferson, but they learn about themselves, their families, their community and their lives in the world.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is the beautifully written result of clearly extensive research done by Robin Talley. Her passion for social justice in multiple spheres shines clearly in her work. The time period allows for the discussion of racism, but she expands the novel to cover internal conflict over sexuality, religion, as well as gender roles. Instead of writing a standard black-person-teaches-white-person-about-racism, Talley looks deep into both Sarah and Linda, and delves into their experiences in so much detail in order to discuss so many more issues. They are so realistic and complex, one can only imagine the amount of thought and structure that went into their creation. The side characters are equally interesting and well developed; everyone faces their own struggles and their own growth, even if they aren’t the focus of the novel. I particularly loved Sarah’s little sister Ruthie, who would not shy away from searching for hope and justice in difficult situations.

This novel is simply extraordinary. Talley’s multifaceted approach to so many different issues is extensive and well thought out. I highly recommend this book for readers who want to understand the circumstances of the time better, who are involved in activism, or who simply want a moving read. Lies We Tell Ourselves is such an amazing work and I can’t wait to get my hands on Robin Talley’s next book as well. Happy reading!

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