This year, mainly because of the introduction of book reviews for work, I have been trying to embrace all manner of different genres. The opportunity to open myself up to styles I would not have previously thought of is mainly due to the fact that if I am lucky I get hold of the books for free. So, when the opportunity to review a YA fiction novel with a focus on circa 1950’s America and specifically the Civil Rights Movement I jumped at it (a particularly horrible A2 level in history hasn’t managed to put me off a clearly disturbing and very real subject).
Lies We Tell Ourselves is Robin Talley’s debut novel that opens from the compelling perspective of Sarah, a black girl corralled into joining 9 of her friends at a formerly all white high school in Virginia. We see Sarah struggle with the desire to be mature and strong in the face of emotional and physical violence on a daily basis. What Talley does that I thought particularly fascinating was also to show the views of Linda, a student already at that school, brought up in a traditional Southern State family with a staunch anti-desegregationist father who has added anger issues to boot. All of a sudden it becomes quite difficult to dislike Linda for the views she seems to hold but doesn’t fully believe. She is a victim of ‘tradition’ and her father’s particularly belligerent views on equal rights.
The additional element of the growing, confusing feelings the girls develop for each other felt slightly shoe-horned into the story and while not wholly far fetched didn’t add what I think the author intended to the plot. Linda and Sarah’s friendship is abhorred enough without the need for the additional drama of the girls loving one another in an already desperately unforgiving environment.
A positive of this plot addition however is that tackling discrimination in any form should be applauded and although not my particular favourite element of the book Talley does take it on with respect for the subject and the need for historical accuracy.
The subject is gritty, the characters are powerful and I think that this, on the whole, is how a YA novel should be. Thought Provoking.