There’s a good chance you’ve seen a picture from the desegration of schools half a century ago — hateful crowds, sneers on their pale faces, swarming around a child, carrying books, walking up to a school building. But far fewer have actually crossed the threshold and envisioned what happens in the school building, day after day, in the same way that Robin Talley gives us in Lies We Tell Ourselves.
Sarah Dunbar is in the first group of black students to attend Jefferson High School, a previously white-only institution. Despite months of preparation, the daily taunts, leers, spitballs, threats, and hatred she faces from her peers begin to wear on her before long. When she is forced to do a French project with white classmate Linda Hairston, the daughter of a vocal opponent of school integration, her school life leaves the school day and Sarah has no choice but to face the hatred she’s surrounded by and the danger she’s in.
Told from both Sarah and Linda’s perspective,Talley’s work is well researched and a story that many audiences may not have heard before, which makes it refreshing. Talley herself, while white, works in social justice and is able to both craft a story in Lies We Tell Ourselves and insert relevant social commentary about race, then and now.
The thing that nobody has told you about this book that isn’t readily apparent in the book’s promotional materials and on the cover is that the Sarah and Linda begin to develop feelings for each other. While the addition of a romantic plotline is almost too much for an already very full book, the book does raise questions about differences we discriminate upon that can be seen vs. those we can hide.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is full of hard-hitting issues relevant to today’s youth and adults. It is well-timed, both with regards to issues of race and issues of sexual orientation. The delivery, in alternating perspectives with each chapter given a lie that one of the girls is telling themselves, is effective and compelling. It would be a lie to say that Talley’s work is not worth the read.