Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Challenge 27 ~ “A book with a beautiful title (in your own opinion).”


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This is why I love shadowing the Carnegie shortlist – there always seems to be at least one book that makes you critically examine another culture or piece of history. This year, Five Children on the Western Front has already offered an alternative look at some history we study intensively in the school curriculum, and now Lies We Tell Ourselves examines some of the history largely overlooked in English secondary schools. Both are incredible reads.

The front cover seems to pick up on two issues that in many other cases would have been separate storylines: a mixed-race relationship and a same-sex relationship. Talley, however, throws in the integration of schools and combines all three into one novel. Too much? No, not in Lies We Tell Ourselves. Without minimising any of the three issues, Talley tells both Sarah and Linda’s stories in a well-presented, unhurried and informative manner. I, for one, had very little knowledge of American integration in the school system, and yet I was both widely educated and encouraged to learn more following the read.

Talley’s formatting of the story was also fantastic. Creating each chapter as a lie (ones we often tell ourselves everyday), the title gained a strong significance, whilst alternating perspectives gave the reader a more balanced understanding of integration from both racial backgrounds. The characters were kept realistic, even if at times it was hard to accept – Chuck was such a strong character that it was heart-breaking to discover how the constant bullying forced him to change through the novel. Even worse was reflecting on how people like Chuck really existed, forced by their own versions of Bo to drastically alter their future.

My one struggle with Lies We Tell Ourselves was finding the strength to pick it up once I’d put it down (not that is was always easy to put down in the first place!) I think that having such a heavy storyline, it wasn’t always something I wanted to pick up after a long day. Yet, I think this is also right for the book – integration in the school system was horrific, challenging and heart-breaking in many cases, and to this Talley does true justice. Certainly not a quick or light-hearted read, but in the best way. Even if you haven’t thought of integration before, or aren’t too keen on modern history, Lies We Tell Ourselves is well worth a read, and (as clichéd as it sounds) will leave your mind reeling long after the final page has turned.

Recommended for fans of:

  • Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
  • Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman

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