Whilst I normally read a lot of LGBT books, I wanted to read something to celebrate history month in February. Honestly, I normally avoid LGBT romances set in the past because they never seem to end well (Song Of Achilles who?), but I thought this was a fitting time to read Lies We Tell Ourselves. Plus, it’s been on my shelf for too long. The main theme is racism in 1960’s America, but how Sally and Linda dealt with their feelings and how they felt for each other between was also a key part. Here’s my review 🙂
Name: Lies We Tell Ourselves
Author: Robin Talley
Song: Ain’t Got No – I Got Life by Nina Simone
In 1959 Virginia, the lives of two girls on opposite sides of the battle for civil rights will be changed forever.
Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black students to attend the previously all-white Jefferson High School. An honors student at her old school, she is put into remedial classes, spit on and tormented daily. Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents of school integration. She has been taught all her life that the races should be kept separate but equal.
Forced to work together on a school project, Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.
Synopsis and photos from Goodreads
If the beginning of a book was 5 stars, the middle was 3 stars but the very end was 5 stars again…. what rating do I give it? For me, Lies We Tell Ourselves wasn’t a consistent 4 star book, some bits were better and some bits were boring. It’s the story of two girls on polar opposite ends of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. I’m sure you picked that up from the blurb (and I really should have too) but Linda’s attitude towards Sarah at the beginning still surprised me.
The book is split into two perspectives, and Linda’s point of view is interesting. The story of the white students in these situations is a story that isn’t really told – and one I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear. The abuse faced by Sarah and her peers is horrendous and disgusting and pretty hard to read about. Linda’s point of view doesn’t justify it in any way, but is perhaps a glimpse into how brainwashed the white students were – although I’m still not sure that I ship her with Sarah. It was an uncomfortable one. Initially, I was sure that Sarah’s love interest would be one of the ones defending the black students, not one of the ring leaders. I guess it makes for character development?
This is my last point on Linda, but she became a bit painful. She would almost make progress in how she treated the black students and I’d believe she would to do something, but then would spout the same rubbish. It felt like one step forward, one step back and there were about 30 pages that were very repetitive. It was frustrating! Whilst the pace was brilliant and super engaging for the majority, it did drag in the middle and that might have added to my irritation at Linda. In the middle, the girls were trying to figure out their feelings; I’m not sure what I expected but it was a bit of a depressing take on sexuality. Being a lesbian is evil, I get the message! However, I liked how it tackled sexuality and religion and I was really interested in how dating worked in the 60’s. It’s a weird world of going steady and class rings and married out of high school… I loved it!
Then, the formatting is BEAUTIFUL. Each chapter starts with a ‘lie’ but the epilogue chapters were labeled with a ‘truth’ and ahhh I loved it so much. The cover on my copy is gorgeous (despite not the most subtle lol) but I’m also a fan of the yearbook vibes of this edition. Which do you prefer?
To conclude, this is a great book. I can’t comment on the representation, but Sarah was a brilliant character. I felt that she wasn’t too invulnerable, but was headstrong and spoke her mind. This isn’t a light book. Whilst the dialogue between Sarah and Linda sometimes strayed on the far side of realistic, the interactions between her and the other students felt all too real. I was scared for all the characters throughout, mainly due to how well detailed side characters were, especially Sarah’s sister. Lies We Tell Ourselves gave me goosebumps. This is an important and powerful book that I’d recommend to anyone and everyone.