Lies We Tell Ourselves on Goodreads

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.

Boldly realistic and emotionally compelling, Lies We Tell Ourselves is a brave and stunning novel about finding truth amid the lies, and finding your voice even when others are determined to silence it

We received this ARC in exchange for an honest review - thank you to Harlequin Teen  for sending us a copy!

This is a spoiler-free review.

Lie #1: This is just a YA book

It would be easy enough, faced with a plethora of choices on a YA shelf in a bookstore, to clump Lies We Tell Ourselves with the rest. It would be only too simple to think of it as one of those books which raises one of those issues that will hit close to home and which will make us feel as though the author had written it with us in mind.

But there's easy. And then there's right.

The truth is that Lies We Tell Ourselves is much more than a genre, and much more than a cover amid the covers. It is a story that addresses not only those issues which we can identify with as individuals (which is the case with most YA), but the issues which we as a society face. It tackles uncertainties which have spanned centuries and transcended continents and cultural boundaries - and those which the world needs to come together to resolve. At the same time, the individual issues are juxtaposed to the larger-scale ones: this is a story about being different and finding common ground with others; it's a story about being fearful and finding the legs to stand on. It's a story about being repressed and learning to love and be loved in return.

Lie #2: This is historical fiction

For most of today's youth, picking up a book which tackles the subject of racial desegregation in the 1950s is a daunting prospect. It is a subject covered in history classes, and one which the older generations canvass. It is historical fiction, and as such, it might feel as though Lies We Tell Ourselves is the sort of book which might require a thorough understanding of the historical circumstances in the USA in order to fully comprehend the book.

The truth is Lies We Tell Ourselves is educational. It takes the reader through the issues the country faced in the 1950s as effortlessly as most other reads tackle present-day events. But more importantly, it addresses the issues which came to head in the 1950s, but which have not been properly dealt with to this day. And it is this present-day relevance which makes the book far from antiquated, and the subject far from obsolete or in any way historical. This is contemporary fiction. These are the issues of today. These are our issues.

Lie #3: This does not concern us

Similar to how Linda herself felt at the start of the book, we might not think of our surroundings as inherently hateful or prejudiced (nor do we like in the 50s), or we don't belong to a minority and have never felt the bite of an insult or the weight of condescension. The issues raised in Lies We Tell Ourselves are therefore remote and not something that concerns us. Even if it did, it's not something we can change on our own.

And it is precisely this privilege, or the unawareness of the social climate of our immediate surroundings that is all the more reason to gain this unique glimpse into the other side of the coin. Apart from racial bias, Lies We Tell Ourselves tackles homophobia, which was the norm in the 50s, and which is sadly still the norm in many parts of the world today. Not many of us can claim to be living in a bias-free society. And Linda's story teaches us that one voice can carry a lot of weight in the long run.

"And I think I know what Sarah meant when she said I'm the one who really decides."

Lie #4: It will be hard to identify with

Not the historical, nor the racial, nor any other aspect of this book is at all difficult to relate to, regardless of our respective backgrounds, social status or nationality. We should know. We live in two opposite parts of Europe, and we have found this story infinitely relatable on so many levels that it left us gutted.

We have all been judged at times for things we felt were out of our control. We have all felt ourselves to be outsiders. Many have struggled to fit in. Many have second-guessed their own potential. Many were bullied in high school. Many are bullied today.

Lies We Tell Ourselves doesn't shy away from the hateful name-calling throughout the entirety of the book. It doesn't circumvent the aggression that seems to accompany change as a necessary byproduct in our society. Today's prejudices have taken on a more refined form. They have been sublimated. We know this because the sort of blatant verbal and physical aggression that Sarah undergoes in this book is the kind that made us want to turn the page more quickly than strictly speaking necessary. Sarah and her friends shouldered the burden of all generations past, but at a cost that was troubling to even read about. And today, prejudice still reigns. There is still a castigation at every attempt to bend the rules. There's still a punishment for being different from the rest.

And this is the best recommendation we could ever give, truthfully and from the bottom of our hearts. If you have ever been:
- an outcast
- insecure
- alone
- different
- bullied

Then Lies We Tell Ourselves will tell you a story about becoming:
- determined
- strong
- accomplished
- sensible
- ambitious 
- loved

(... And not in a self-help way, either.)

Lie #5: Books such as these can't possibly have a satisfactory ending

Better times have come. Racial integration did happen.

But Lies We Tell Ourselves is so much more than a sum of its (historical) parts. It is also a heartfelt, personal story about two girls on the opposite sides of the "racial war" coming together and learning the value of a human soul more so than the color it is housed in. The change in their mindset is reflected in their school, and then in the society. Little by little, hatred gives way to love.

As for the rest? We're still working on it, as a society.

The biggest lie of all: These are the issues of the past

Stay tuned for a Q&A with author Robin Talley on October 14th, 2014, as well as some special Lies We Tell Ourselves spotlights we have planned in the following period!

Meanwhile discuss the book with us in the comments below, or find us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.