Set in Virgina in 1959, Lies We Tell Ourselves is the story of two girls on the opposite sides of the fight ensuing when Jefferson High School is forced by the law to allow black students within its halls. Sarah Dunbar was an honors student at her old school but is placed in remedial classes at Jefferson and tormented daily by her classmates. Linda Hairston is a popular girl who’s father runs a local paper and strongly believes in segregation. They’re forced to work together on a school project and it leads to them getting to know each other, and being forced to confront some hard truths about their beliefs and their feelings toward one another.
I wanted to read this book before I was even finished reading the synopsis. I knew the events and the mindset of that period would be hard to read but I definitely wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be. It was the type of book and narration that can make a reader think. I thought the dual POV, with a girl on each side of segregation, was really smart. If it had just been in Sarah’s POV it would have been a lot easier to judge the other side and write them off as evil characters, but the addition of Linda’s POV showed how easily hatred and beliefs can be passed on, how hard it can be to overcome those beliefs, how standing up against bullies is never easy for anyone.
Sarah was such a strong character. The taunts, insults, abuse she had to take just to get from the sidewalk to the front doors of the school, all proof that no one wanted her and her fellow students to integrate, was horrifying and set the tone for how the rest of the school year would be for them. The determination she had just to make it into the school was amazing. Linda turned out to be a nice surprise. It would have been easy to fall into the good POV versus the evil POV trap but instead Linda had her own distinct voice, her own issues, and her slow growth throughout the book was great to see. The more time they were forced to spend together, the more they would frustrate each other, the more they would be on one another’s minds. It became easy to see why they would be drawn to one another.
There were a lot of minor characters, some more present than others, but they were all distinct enough so I never felt overwhelmed or forgot who was who. I particularly enjoyed Sarah’s sister Ruth, Linda’s friend Judy, and Sarah’s friends Chuck and Ennis.
While reading, it was impossible not to remember that even though the characters were fictional, the events were not. It made everything Sarah and her friends went through that much more horrifying. The book tackled a lot of hard topics, racism and sexuality being the two main ones, but also showed, mostly through Linda, that sexism was also a huge problem back then.
The chapter titles were really clever. Each one was a statement that was a lie. Lie#1, Lie#2, etc.
This is a book you read and you don’t forget.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.