Sunday, 5 April 2015

Review: The Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lie #1: I'm not afraid. Lie #2: I'm sure I'm doing the right thing. Lie# 3: I don't care what they think of me. 

It's 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it's Sarah's first day of school as one of the first black students at previously all-white Jefferson High. No one wants Sarah there. And certainly not the students - especially Linda, daughter of the town's most ardent segregationist. 

Sarah and Linda are supposed to despise each other. But the more time they spend together, the less their differences matter. And both girls start to feel something they've never felt before. Something they're determined to ignore. Because it's one thing to stand up to an unjust world - but another to be terrified of what's in your own heart. 

First off, my expectations going into reading this were quite high. I had heard a lot about it over Twitter and it was being picked out by booksellers in most of the Waterstones I went into. I'm also a huge fan of Noughts and Crosses and always seek to read something that affected me in that way. Growing up in a small, very rural part of the world, O&X's unique look at race touched me very deeply and made me think hard about the world. I was hoping for a similar experience with The Lies We Tell Ourselves. I won't say I was disappointed, but it didn't quite deliver the hard-hitting punch I wanted it to. 

Reading The Lies We Tell Ourselves was a similar experience to watching Remember the Titans for me: entertaining, interesting and touching at times, but not earth-shattering. It made me aware of what happened during segregation (not that I wasn't before) but it didn't have anything new to give, even with the LGBT element. It's not as powerful as I wanted it to be, but it was a very engaging and page-turning read. 

A lot of that is down to the dual narrative that flips back between Sarah and Linda. Their comparative experiences keeps the plot fresh and quick, despite the fact that I thought their voices weren't overly distinct. That said, there were shining moments for them, such as Sarah's insightful thought that 'Being good means being invisible." This is something that stood out to me as quite astute, as an eldest child myself. 

I did also enjoy the early development of Linda and Sarah's relationship, the animosity they had at the start and the barbed conversations between them were lovely. I really enjoyed watching Sarah break down all Linda's pre-conceptions and seeing Sarah let go of her carefully cultivated control. The same cannot be said for the later stages of their romance which to me seemed very convenient and tidy for a story that was so tumultuous. *Spoiler* their ride of into the sunset on a white horse/greyhound just didn't gel with the rest of the high-stakes goings on for me.  

I did like that the story ends with Ruth's voice. It makes it nicely clear that this isn't just one person's story of struggle and that just because it ends happily in Sarah's case doesn't mean the same for everyone else. It adds a bit of needed bitterness and uncertainty to the oddly Disney-like ending to Sarah and Linda's story. 

There are some production hangups that I can't quite seem to get over as well, mainly because they pulled me out of the story i.e. the small, cramped typeface and the odd additions of illustrations. Also the strange mix of American and UK English. The cover uses coloured while the rest of the book uses colored, a rather odd choice in my book... Or not my book as the case may be. 

Although this review may read negatively, I did actually really enjoy The Lies We Tell Ourselves. It's right up my taste street as I love anything that explores race in an interesting and tasteful way, which this certainly did. I have some criticisms about story, and definitely about the ending, but it is a good, interesting read and I would recommend it. Though I won't go shouting about it. 

I bought this book at Waterstones. Learn more about the book and buy here

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