by Laurel May
When I heard this book was about an interracial lesbian couple living in the 1950’s I immediately wanted it. I was just blown away by the idea of this story! Now that I have read it, I am blown away by the actual story. What an exceptional book!
“Lies We Tell Ourselves” is not an easy read. You only have to look at the time period to understand why that is. This book is set in 1959, after the desegregation of Little Rock School. Here, Sarah and 10 other black students are the first to walk into a previously all-white school. The opening chapter takes place right as this is happening. Robin Talley wrote this book with extreme honesty. The way she wrote about the violence, verbal abuse and assault experienced by Sarah and her friends made me cry several times but it also left me seething with rage at the mindless hate. It’s fact, not fiction, that white Americans were violently prejudiced against African-Americans. They were so utterly ignorant and they felt justified in their bigotry. It made me angry reading some of the beliefs they clung on to, but it’s important to read books like this one that show it as it was.
So this book is told from Sarah, one of first of three seniors to attend this all-white school and Linda, a white student at this school, who’s also the daughter of the town’s biggest segregationist.
I loved how well-rounded Robin Talley’s main characters were. They felt so real, which made the story even more powerful and painful to read! I empathised with everything Sarah and her friends went through, and her feelings on her sexuality.
Sarah was an incredible character! She was so brave, resilient and strong. She faced horrific verbal and physical abuse each day she went to the integrated school but still, she kept going. I loved how fiercely protective she was of her little sister, Ruth. Linda’s point of view was frustrating to read because of how ignorant she was. She has all the bigotry she had been taught since she was a child and she quoted everything her father said. So it wasn’t easy to sympathise with her, but her gradual character development made me warm up to her in the end. I thought this development was realistic because she didn’t suddenly unlearn all the prejudice she had, but she was slowly getting there. She showed her own courage when she faced the person she feared the most and when she admitted to herself that what she believed in was wrong.
Sarah and Linda’s relationship was something else entirely. When I started reading it, I figured it would be star-crossed lovers kind of romance, but oh it’s nothing like that. Both characters were so afraid and confused and scared at what was happening and as the reader, I felt those things too! It was an invigorating relationship. It was intensified by being able to know both of their perspectives on the same things that happened. There’s that one scene in this book… I swear, that scene nearly killed me with feels. It was honestly amazing. I stopped reading a little just to digest what had happened. THAT SCENE!! (trust me, when you read this book you’ll know which scene I’m talking about).
When Sarah started thinking about her sexuality, I started crying a lot. I think it’s because I didn’t realise how much I took for granted how easily I can access information or support on my sexuality. Sarah is 17. She is black. She is a Christian. And now she realises her feelings for girls are what she’s supposed to feel for boys and she has nowhere to go and no support at all. Linda is also on that same boat as she realises that she likes Sarah in a way she isn’t supposed to. It was heartbreaking to read what both girls thought about themselves because they liked other girls. However, I am satisfied with that ending.
Ruth, Sarah’s little sister, was my second favourite character. She was just so awesome! My favourite quote from her is “If you’re going to stand up on stage in front of a crowd full of angry white people you might as well look pretty while you do it”. I also really liked Judy, Linda’s friend. You could tell she was lovely and kind-hearted, it’s just that she lived in a society that was the opposite of that.
I’m not doing this book any justice! I couldn’t articulate how much I loved it and why it’s so significant. It’s beautifully written and so well-researched, that at times you forget that it’s actually fiction, not an autobiography/memoir. It gives you an insight that you may not ever get in a History lesson. I know I didn’t when I studied Civil Rights in America just last year. We looked at Little Rock School and we saw the pictures of the black students being spat on and yelled at by white people. But in “Lies We Tell Ourselves” we go into the minds of the students and understand just how awful and terrifying that experience was.
So, in conclusion, this is now one of my favourite books. I actually read this as an ebook, but I’m still going to buy the physical copy when it comes out on the 3rd of October in the UK. It’s an insightful and engaging read. At times, it’s utterly terrifying since you just don’t know what’s going to happen! You’re also constantly on edge and vigilant, just like Sarah and other African-American students. You almost feel that same fear and anxiety whenever they go into that school. This book will leave you feeling a lot of things. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t put it down! Then after I just wanted to lie down and digest this story that will always stay with me.
“We punish ourselves so much in our imaginations. We convince ourselves everything we do, everything we think, is wrong”.
“Before I met her, I never knew it was possible to feel that way. That just being near someone could make your whole body light up. That having her look at you could make you lose your head”.