YA Diversity Book Club: Lies We Tell Ourselves Discussion

Diversity Book Club
Welcome to the fourth edition of the YA Diversity Book Club, a monthly feature we created in partnership with three other book bloggers: Kiki at Gone Pecan, Lucy at The Reading Date, and Kristan at We Heart YA. This month we read debut author Robin Talley‘s historical novel “Lies We Tell Ourselves,” an unforgettable story about Sarah, a black high-school senior who’s part of the first small group of African Americans to integrate a high school in 1959 Virginia. Sarah not only has to deal with the horrors of integration but the additional confusion of falling for her white classmate Linda, who happens to be the daughter of the town’s openly segregationist newspaper editor.

This month we’re once again hosting the book club chat, and we hope that you’ll be prompted to put the book on your TBR list; we promise you won’t regret it. Many thanks to Harlequin Teen for sending us all review copies of the book!


Lies We Tell Ourselves
Harlequin, 384 pages | Sept. 30, 2014 | Goodreads | Amazon ~ IndieBound

Talley’s first novel takes a close, honest look at school integration and sexual identity in a small fictional Virginia town in 1959. The story unfolds through the alternating narratives of two high school seniors: Linda Hairston, the white daughter of a journalist who writes editorials opposing integration, and Sarah Dunbar, one of 10 new black students at their recently integrated high school, where racial tensions are running high. When Linda and Sarah are forced to work together on a class project, they are immediately drawn toward one another and mutually terrified of their attraction. Linda, as a result of her abusive father’s influence, views integration as an irritating disruption, while Sarah eloquently debates Linda’s negative perceptions. Chapters begin with lies that Sarah and Linda disprove, such as “I’m not brave enough for this” and “None of this has anything to do with me.” Talley details the girls’ growth as they learn to form their own moral codes, while steeping readers in a pivotal moment of history. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.  -Publishers Weekly

Reading Date:  Did you both finish the book? I finished yesterday.
We Heart YA: I finished earlier today
Reading Date: So, what did you guys think of the book? I thought it was so powerful and emotional, but hard to read too.
Teen Lit Rocks: I finished a while back — agree. the name calling and discrimination were torturous to read
We Heart YA: The beginning made really uncomfortable, especially with all the n-words being thrown around. I know it’s historically accurate but it still makes me flinch.
Reading Date: Agreed. Flinch is a good word for it. It was hard to take.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, but it would have been wrong for her to spare us the horror, I think. To make it seem tamer than it was.
We Heart YA: I got emotional about the discrimination, but strangely felt kind of detached from the heroines themselves. Well it’s funny you say that (about sparing us horror) because I felt like the story held back a bit. Things never got THAT bad for either heroine.
Reading Date: Do you think the dual pov made it harder to connect?
We Heart YA: I’m not sure… Personally I would have liked to see more of them, versus being in their heads so much.
Teen Lit Rocks: I’m not sure if it was a pov issue for me, but I guess part of me wonders whether there was a historical basis for the lesbian subplot; I think that compounding the two struggles made it almost unbearable at times and yet didn’t provide a complete picture of either “problem” of the time.
We Heart YA: I like learning about characters through their actions more than their internal thoughts. Yes! I hate to say that I too wondered if having two such enormous issues muddied things instead of magnifying them.
Reading Date: I liked seeing both sides of the equation, and was interested in the lesbian subplot but yeah maybe it was all too much for one book.
We Heart YA: I DID like where Sarah netted out, working things out on her own about how her lesbian feelings might be reconciled with her faith. And how Linda learned to stop parroting and think for herself.
Reading Date: With Linda it was always one step forward two steps back. She was so frustrating to me.
Teen Lit Rocks: I guess that to me, because of the time period, it was hard to feel hopeful about their future.
We Heart YA: Haha I think Sarah would agree with you about Linda. Interesting, Sandie. Because knowing that the civil rights movement succeeded helped me get through at times. (Although I also couldn’t help reflecting on how much ground is still left to cover..,)
Reading Date: I’m just in awe of the students that took that first step. And students like Sarah’s sister that were so strong.
Teen Lit Rocks: I liked how the attraction was described; and how she used the white kids’ reactions to validate just how beautiful Sarah was (with that whole house slave convo).
We Heart YA: Yes! I loved Ruth’s brief interlude. Yeah I think Talley did a good job of keeping the girls’ perspectives accurate to the thinking of the time.
Teen Lit Rocks: I loved Ruth, and I kinda wish Talley had explored more about the real danger of lynching and Emmett Till and what an impact that had on the black community. I don’t know if I truly believed one of those boys would hook up with a white girl with so much attention on him.
Reading Date: Yes, Sandie, I didn’t find that plausible either.
We Heart YA: Yeah that’s what I mean by the story held back: after what happened to Chuck, there isn’t much. I kept expecting Sarah, or maybe even Linda, to face some serious danger.
Teen Lit Rocks: Well, she didn’t hold back on the language, is what I initially meant by “the horror” — she didn’t use code words or anything to describe what was happening
We Heart YA: Eh, I can buy the interracial hookup. But maybe that’s because I’m the product of one. :P
Teen Lit Rocks: Yeah, not at the time, in that place, under those circumstances, though. Nowadays no one blinks an eye at it in most places, so maybe kids won’t pick up on that.
We Heart YA: I wanted to see real consequences for the girls’ choices…
Teen Lit Rocks: Even the friend (Judy? can’t remember at the moment) didn’t really let them have it
Reading Date: They both did dodge bullets didn’t they? The choir performance worked out and Linda didn’t suffer too much after her editorial.
Teen Lit Rocks: I kept expecting one of them to get slapped in the face and called an abomination or something!
We Heart YA: Exactly. Pretty tame, considering the circumstances. Oh I expected worse. So many terrible things could have happened — did happen to real people in those times.
Teen Lit Rocks: Considering everything they endured walking down the halls, it did seem a bit too HEA an ending BUT — that being said, I really did think it was a thought-provoking and powerful read.
We Heart YA: I sound sadistic, but really I just wanted the terror of those opening chapters to be carried throughout. To show readers the full scope of what that time was like.
Teen Lit Rocks: I don’t think I could’ve handled if she had actually had one of the kids killed or whatever. Plus, those kids (in real life) were being monitored by the press, so that kinda sorta provided them with a slight safety net…
We Heart YA: Oh for sure I agree. This book is fertile ground for excellent and important discussions.
Reading Date: Powerful for me too. I’d rate it a 4.5- it’s not one I’ll soon forget. I was okay actually that the author did not take the violence further.
We Heart YA: There are lots of good parallels between the civil rights movement then and the fight for equality now.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, I mean, I was already on edge for most of the book, so that would’ve been just so devastating (and probably a-historical, since I’m not sure any of those kids were killed)
Reading Date: Do you think Sarah would have been beaten up if her relationship with Linda was exposed?
We Heart YA: (Lol maybe I’m too influenced by George RR Martin. I expect my characters to suffer.)
Teen Lit Rocks: I think being a lesbian at that time was in some ways even harder to overcome than race once it was known about you.
There was a context for race — even though it was horrible and discriminatory — but not so for being gay. Heck, the LGBT still has trouble convincing parts of society they are just like everyone else.
We Heart YA: Hmm. I don’t know. That could have offered an interesting parallel to Chuck.
Reading Date: I wanted her to come out to her parents though I guess that she was still processing it herself. I know that her sister figured it out.
We Heart YA: Mmm, I think her sister was starting to piece it together at the end but I’m not sure it was a concrete realization yet. Judy and some of the adults were interesting to me because they showed all the different gray area stances that people took.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, and that (your mention of people’s “gray” stances) rings really true. Like that AVENUE Q song, everyone’s a little bit racist.
We Heart YA: Sad but probably true.
Reading Date: Judy was interesting in that she was so open to friendship with Sarah, but so totally put off by the idea that her friend was a lesbian.

Teen Lit Rocks: Yes, that made sense to me. Because there was no place for gays and lesbians at the time, whereas at least blacks weren’t all bad — even in the mind of a girl born to racists. She did a good job capturing the difference between general attraction and desire, I thought.

Like kissing the guys in their lives wasn’t described as gross or disgusting, because they did think highly of and care about the guys; they just didn’t desire them.
We Heart YA: Oh that reminds me, I liked Linda’s relationship with Jack. How it illuminated her character

Reading Date: Ennis was really sweet. And you are making me appreciate the Jack/Linda storyline.

Teen Lit Rocks: Oh yeah both Ennis and Jack were decent guys and more sure of themselves than the two girls, obviously
We Heart YA: Oh another aspect we haven’t touched on that I enjoyed: the setting. I could picture this quaint town, with its soda shop and segregated neighborhoods.
Teen Lit Rocks: Living in the DC area, I pictured one of the towns a bit too far to be in Northern Virginia but not so far as to be totally “country”
We Heart YA:  I thought Talley was good about pointing out that not everywhere was like this, too. She kept referencing Chicago, for example. Just to give readers some perspective.

Reading Date: The descriptions were very vivid. Too vivid in some cases. But I liked the fashion and hairstyle descriptions too.

We Heart YA: Linda ‘s sweater sets haha.

Reading Date: One of the discussion questions is Why does Sarah fall for Linda. And I have to say I wondered that as well.

We Heart YA: I took it as, Sarah has the typical popular girl appeal.
Reading Date: I guess they did make each other stronger. Is there anything else we need to talk about?
We Heart YA: I don’t think I have anything more on the book… Overall, I might have liked some different story choices, but it was a very rich read.
Teen Lit Rocks: I just want to add that despite some of the tiny issues I had, this is a book that stayed with me and kept popping up in my head; kids need to understand what it was like in the South, because there are Americans who like to pretend things weren’t so bad.

We Heart YA: *nods* And too many Americans who like to think racism and discrimination are over. This book does a great job of using the past to illuminate the present.

Reading Date: Agreed. I talked to my teen about this book and I think that this book is totally relevant to their studies and makes it more personal.


Interested in the book? Make sure to read our Q&A with author Robin Talley at The Reading Date and We Heart YA’s post “4 Lies We Tell Ourselves — and Shouldn’t.” Also check out our past book club selections and pick up Sara Farizan’s “Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel” if you want to join us for our November Book Club!


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