Lies We Tell Ourselves takes us back to 1950s Virginia to the beginnings of the desegregation of the public school system when a select few exemplary students from the local all Black school ‘Johns’ were sent to all White school ‘Jefferson’. This book is not an easy one to read. The sheer amount of violence, racism and injustice made me cringe throughout most of it. It follows Sarah Dunbar, one of the first Black seniors to attend Jefferson school but the point of view alternates with a White student from the school, Linda Hairston whose behaviour and attitudes throughout the most of the novel are completely reprehensible. Sarah and the other former Johns students have to battle it out every day facing the most abhorrent treatment but Sarah is also hiding a secret, the repercussions of which could alienate her from everyone she is close to.
One of the things I loved about this book was the historical context – I am fascinated by this period in American History but when reading about it, it is so easy to get caught up in all of the grand gestures and iconic moments and people – Rosa Parks, the Freedom rides, MLK Jr until all of these people and events are so high on a pedestal we forget the basic humanity of the situation and their fallibility. Talley gives us a chance to experience this time period through the eyes of a young girl who doubts and questions and makes mistakes and falters. She is not always brave, she is not always good or honest or kind but she is very real.
I gave it Four Stars instead of five was because I really struggled with the motivations of some of the characters and I found it very hard to connect with them and to make sense of their actions. This would make a really good book for book clubs though as there is so much to talk about with it. All in all, definitely worth your time.