There is an old saying: “may you live in interesting times”.
In Robin Talley’s new book “Lies We Tell Ourselves“, her main characters not only live in interesting and life changing times, but they must also face the world that they live in.
Sarah Dunbar is a young lady with a bright future. She is intelligent, capable and looking forward to what the future might bring. But she is also an African-American teenager living in the American South in 1959. The courts have ordered that “separate but equal” is illegal and schools must start to integrate. Sarah is chosen, with a small handful of classmates to leave her all black high school and integrate the town’s all white high school. She is well aware of the hatred and prejudice that she will experience, but she does not anticipate how it will forever change her life.
Linda Hairston’s father is the editor of town newspaper. Her father is among many in the town who firmly believe that “separate but equal” had worked just fine up to that point and should continue to exist as is. From the time she was born, Linda, has been taught that because she was born Caucasian, her rights and abilities will forever supersede those of the African-Americans in town. Linda is initially not happy when she is paired with Sarah for a project, but gradually learns to appreciate Sarah and see beyond the blind hatred she was taught.
This book may be labelled a YA book, but the appeal goes beyond the standard YA label. Teaching respect and acceptance of others who are different is a universal and ageless message. Ms. Talley writes in a compelling manner with vivid language, fully rounded characters and a story that should be a must read for all ages. What shocked me most of all, was the ugly language and actions that Sarah and the rest of the African-American students experienced. I’ve heard stories of the violence and hatred of those who dared to stand up for themselves, but to experience it through these characters broke my heart.
What struck me most of all was the lessons we can learn from Sarah and Linda.
There is a unique twist to this story, which I will not give away, but I will say that it was unexpected and fit right in with the overall arc of the novel.
I absolutely recommend it.