By Robin Talley
Available now from Harlequin Teen
LIES WE TELL OURSELVES is a hard book to read. It focuses on the first year of integration at a Virginia high school. Debut author Robin Talley doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the brutality the black students faced. Racial slurs fly, violence is common, and nasty comments are constant. Although the students who go to the white school were chosen because they were the best of the best, they're stuck in remedial classes and everyone acts like they're stupid.
And the hate definitely goes beyond simple bullying and the relentless use of variations of the n-word. The white characters genuinely believe that they are superior. The normalization of the racism, accurate to the period, is horrifying. The resistance to integration is a shameful part of our nation's past, and it is difficult to read about such hate happening in the same era my parents were in elementary school.
The point of view in LIES WE TELL OURSELVES switches between Sarah, one of the "agitators," and Linda, the daughter of a powerful newspaper editor who is firmly against integration. I found Sarah's sections more compelling. Linda's were a bit over the top - not only is her father firmly racist, but also abusive. He's so evil that he's easy to dismiss, when so much of the antagonism in the rest of the novel is deftly drawn. Despite being on opposite ideological sides, the girls are instantly physically attracted to each other. That's a problem for their beliefs in more ways than one.
I felt like the romance tended to fade being the historical detail and focus on what happens during the tumultuous school year. I believed the girls were attracted to each other, because they had a real antagonist spark that drove each of them to respect the other's intelligence (through time spent in debate). But I feel like LIES WE TELL OURSELVES ended before really convincing me that Sarah and Linda could make it as an interracial lesbian couple. I believe both girls have the strength to try, however.
I think LIES WE TELL OURSELVES is a strong debut. The story wanders without much focus, more interested in the historical atmosphere than the actual romance. But the growth of the characters is wonderfully done and it is a fascinating piece of history. Do not expect to read this one in one day. It is rough to revisit integration. At the same time, the social issues the girls face are a reminder that we still have so much farther to go.