“For eighteen years I’ve believed what other people told me about what was right and what was wrong. From now. I’m deciding.”
I have seen a few very favorable reviews of this YA novel already, and I must say that I too really liked it for both the clear writing style, but also the handling of the serious subject matter therein, though I do think that perhaps one side of the story was much stronger than the other.
Lies We Tell Ourselves shifts between the perspectives of two different students during integration in 1959 Virginia, named Sarah and Linda. Sarah is one of the first black students to attend an all-white school in their town along with her sister and a few fellow classmates, while Linda is a white student who opposes integration and whose father is a loud media voice against it. Sarah and her fellow black classmates endure daily harassment and violence, while Linda believes this is just a problem for her and her fellow white students as those who to “force” integration are “agitators”. Of course, the two opposing students are soon forced to interact… and from there we get our major story of the two sides resisting to come together at first, but then finding some understanding. There are some interesting plot points here, but some of them you really can see coming quite early on. I wouldn’t, however, say that this predictability ruined my enjoyment of the story in any way.
There is a lot to unpack in the complicated subject of integration and race, and while at first I didn’t want to know what Linda thought of it all, it was interesting to see just where certain ideas can come from and how they may change: she herself has personal struggles though they may be different from those of Sarah. But ultimately, it is Sarah who is the star of this story in my opinion, as her dialogue centers more firmly on the narrative of integration, but then also incorporates so many other themes and layers of sexuality, the idea of wrongness and sin in the self, the roles and expectations of women during this time period (Linda also touches on this), etc etc.
The subject matter here is important, and it is clear that Talley put in research to try and create a very real sense of constant impending threat that the black students experience. While this book does contain violence, the author’s note at the end illuminates that some schools during this time integrated without much incident, while others had much more violence and even deaths that occurred from it.
Given that this novel is aimed at young adult readers, I am not surprised nor too disappointed in the way things wrap up seemingly happily and without much incident at the end. Though, the pacing was a little odd as it almost seemed like a climactic point was reached just after the halfway point, then the novel began to introduce all new plotlines which then had to be wrapped up quite hastily before the end, in my opinion.
Yet, despite this one major qualm for me, and a resistance at first to want to see Linda’s side of the story (I think I’m just getting so tired in real life listening to someone I see every day just be so stubborn in their closed minded ideas and try to claim that they have “facts” to support them, yadda yadda, we all know the types and it’s exhausting), Lies We Tell Ourselves is powerful, important, and would be a great novel to be introduced into high school English courses to dissect and discuss.