I’m not going to lie (ha!), but this story stressed me out. In a good way of course, which is why I continued reading it. It took me about a month to get through this, not because I had a lot of work I needed to do, but because there were just certain scenes (many really!!!) where I had to take a step back and catch my breath. I can’t imagine how emotionally draining writing this book must have been for the author. But whenever I set the book to the side, I felt a bit of guilt. While the characters in this novel are all fake, the emotions and situations were likely faced by real people during this time period.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is told from two perspectives. Sarah Dunbar is a high school senior and one of the first African-American students to integrate Jefferson High School. Linda Hairston is also a senior at Jefferson High and is the daughter of one of the town’s most vocal opponents to integration. Their paths cross in and outside of the school, forcing the two to scrutinize everything that they once believed to be true.
I think what I appreciated most about LWTO was Sarah. While the book is roughly divided evenly between Sarah’s life and Linda’s life, the sections where we slipped into Sarah’s mind were much more interesting. Sarah has a lot on her plate. She’s one of the first groups to integrate the local high school, she needs to make stellar grades to get into a good college, she is always worried about the safety of her younger sister, she’s tormented physically and mentally inside her school AND she slowly starts to develop feelings for Linda. Sarah’s a smart girl, but she’s plagued with so many doubts and fears. And she’s honest about a lot of her emotions. She understands the importance of integration and she wholeheartedly agree that the races should and could live peacefully among each other. But she also recognizes that going to school every day and being surrounded by a cluster of people who hate you and sneer at you is no easy feat.
I have to stop myself from snorting. What business is it of Miss Freeman’s, or any of theirs? They weren’t in that room with Paulie when it happened. They didn’t get detention from the principle for trying to help their friend, like I did yesterday. They aren’t getting called names all day by angry white people, like all of us are. It’s hard to think about the good of the movement when you can’t hear yourself think for the shouting.
The only way I could love this novel more than I already do is if it was told entirely from Sarah’s perspective. Linda was a great character and I definitely felt for her. She was struggling to figure out who she was and she had to unlearn a lot of what she was taught as a child. That’s hard for anyone to go through. But Linda’s sections just pale in comparison to Sarah’s.
I should probably admit that I was interested in this because it featured a woman loving woman relationship. It’s always nice to come across a romance that’s not the typical love story. I was a little sad that Sarah and Linda’s relationship did not really go far, but at least the novel ended on a relatively happy note for them. And the flow of their relationship made sense for the time period. Black rights were still being contested at the time (1959) and Gay rights were virtually nonexistent. So I’m happy with the few romantic scenes in the book. Plus, what I think is most important about their relationship is that the two girls understand each other and that’s a lot more important than physical intimacy. There are several passages where the girls say they can essentially guess what the other is thinking and they often note when the other looks genuinely happy about something. Sarah gives a pretty nice view of their relationship:
With Linda, I didn’t have to put on a brave face and pretend none of it bothered me. I didn’t have to play the nice girl or the big sister. I didn’t have to be anyone but me. I miss that. Even though it was wrong. I miss spending time with her.
They struggle to name how they felt, but I honestly believe it was love or at least, the beginning of it.
This book is important for a lot of different reasons. It touches on a lot of issues that, unfortunately, still face this country in our time. I wish I could say Lies We Tell Ourselves is an easy and light read, but it’s not. It can be emotionally draining and at times can really make you feel disgusted with how things were and still are. But it’s definitely worth reading. You’ll feel for the characters, especially Sarah and Linda. You’ll want better for everyone, though not everyone deserves it. And in the end, you’ll be happy because even though the time period was filled with a lot of violence, blatant ignorance and vile hatred, there was still some good in the world. This is a book worthy of being on anyone’s TBR list!