Thursday 2 October 2014

Review: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

It's 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it's Sarah Dunbar's first day of school, as one of the first black students at the previously all-white Jefferson High. No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students – especially Linda Hairston, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. Sarah and Linda have every reason to despise each other. But as a school project forces them to spend time together, the less their differences seem to matter. And Sarah and Linda start to feel something they've never felt before. Something they're both determined ignore. Because it's one thing to be frightened by the world around you - and another thing altogether when you're terrified of what you feel inside.

Review: I truly wasn't expecting this novel to have as powerful an effect as it has had on me. This novel covers some serious issues, but never at any point does it feel heavy or preachy in anyway. This novel taught me a lot about the history of integration. About the attitude towards young people in the last century any the attitude towards homosexuality in America's youth in the 1950s and yet i never felt like i was being overtly taught about any of these subjects-pure brilliance!

The structure of this novel is lovely. Each chapter is headed up by a lie that one of the girls in the novel is telling herself. This gives you a clue as to the content of the chapter and sometimes even the title of the chapter can challenge your perceptions of the characters or the storyline! In each chapter there is a new issue covered and each chapter adds depth to the storyline, but again just by guiding you in the right direction, not by overtly telling you exactly what is happening. There are some pretty harrowing scenes in the novel of the young black people trying to integrate into the white school being attacked verbally or physically but these are to be expected in a novel which deals with these issues and nothing is violent or racist for the sake of being so, they all add to the storyline and continue your journey with the characters. 

The book is split into five sections as well as the different chapters and is a dual narrative between Sarah, one of the black teens at Jefferson High and Linda, one of the white teens who is already attending the school when Sarah and her friends come and join. This structure allows you to really see how events effect each girl and get in to the mindset of both of them making the novel even more powerful. I liked both of them. Both of them were struggling with prejudices and their own misconceptions about the other, and at the same time struggling with their relationship as friends and peers. The other characters in the novel are also interesting to read about, some of them are very short sighted, but that is a reflection of the feeling at the time and there is a note at the end of the novel about the historical accuracy of the feelings towards integration in America at that time. 

Overall I really enjoyed this novel despite the fact that it deals with a tough subject. I enjoyed reading about the girls and the integration and life in an American high school at that time. The structure of the novel meant that it was a quick read and the storyline meant that it was seriously compelling. If you are thinking twice about reading this novel because of the subject matter, my advice would be to give it a go, i feel sure that you will be drawn in Sarah and Linda's world as I was and race your way through to the end to see how life turns out for both of them. 

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