Reader Reviewed Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Written by Robin Talley

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Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2016.

October 2014 Debut of the Month Fascinating, commanding and stimulating; this work of fiction is steeped in the history of the American school integration struggle in the late 1950’s. The author has clearly done her research and written a provocative and yet somehow irresistibly beautiful novel. Talley picks you up and hurls you down in the middle of the brutal pack mentality, she spins you around, then gently slips hope and love inbetween the clamour and hatred. Sarah and Linda feel substantial and real; their dreams and fears, writhe and pulse from the pages. This is so thought-provoking it almost hurts to read it, yet every word is needed, is necessary and consequently this is a novel that lingers long after you've finished it.

A 'Piece of Passion' from the publisher...

I am so excited to share Robin Talley’s Lies We Tell Ourselves with you. This is such an incredibly special book, following the story of Sarah, a black girl, and Linda, a white girl, whose relationship challenges the very real and heart-breaking racial divide in the American south in the late 1950s. When I first read this manuscript, I was blown away by the raw emotion of Robin Talley’s writing and the beautifully crafted plot that grabs you instantly on page one and turns this into an absolute stay-up-all-night-to-finish- it read. As Sarah and Linda challenge each other’s view of the world and fight against the prejudices they face, it is also clear how some of these battles have yet to be won and how relevant and necessary their story remains for a 2014 audience. A truly unique and incredible story, Lies We Tell Ourselves is the kind of novel that will resonate with both a young adult and adult audience long after the final page.

Reader Reviews

Teens love to read and so in addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Lovereading4kids Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title. You can read their full reviews by clicking here.

  • Safiyah Davenport, age 15 - 'an emotional, thought provoking, realistic and inspirational novel about the disintegration of segregation and finding oneself.'
  • Kynthia Ravikumar, age 14 - 'a heart wrenching book talking of segregation, integration and the love of two girls from different races which cannot thrive in such a divided community. A beautiful novel.'
  • Hayley Rutland-Walker - 'I immediately found myself swept up in the tension of the storyline and hours slipped by without notice. This felt like a fresh, authoritative and very important book.'
  • Poppy Jeavons, age 15 - 'I found Lies We Tell Ourselves very gripping, and it was easy to imagine the characters and places. I found the language hard to deal with, but it was written well. And it finished in a good place.'
  • Jane Brown - 'This is a powerful YA book. Tackling two major subjects- racism and sexual orientation. I would urge everyone to read this book.'
  • Amelia White, age 14 - 'I found this book very interesting and enjoyed reading it and learning what it was really like in 1959.'
  • Shila Rahman - 'Its really amazing and a good story from beginning till end.'
  • Janet Gilliard - 'Sensitively written, it explores not one but two delicate subjects. I recommend this book not just to young adults but to readers if all ages.' 
  • Phoebe Allan, age 14 - '. Beautifully written, sparks many questions and gets the emotions running. I would honestly suggest this book.'
  • Jake Fletcher, age 13 - 'Virginia 1959. Black and white students go to school together for the first time. Robin Talley introduces you to another world, yet the prejudice it reveals is still familiar.'
  • Imogen Fisher, age 13 - 'I think this is an incredible book, it really makes you think and it is so interesting to read.'
  • Lucy Smith - 'The author has done well to highlight a painful period in history around integration in a tangible manner and with obvious wisdom, knowledge and sensitivity. By the end I didn’t want to put it down.'
  • Alice D'Angelo, age 15 - 'a well written novel that makes every line personal.... Sarah’s constant fear for her life and those that she loves puts the danger of that time into a stark reality that will move and empower you. I genuinely could not put this book down.'
  • Ella Grabsky, age 15 - 'This was a very powerful book that dealt with dark topics such as segregation and homophobia very well. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.'


Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

It's 1959 The battle for civil rights is raging. And it's Sarah's first day of school as one of the first black students at previously all-white Jefferson High No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students - especially Linda, daughter of the town's most ardent segregationist. Sarah and Linda are supposed to despise each other. But the more time they spend together, the less their differences matter. And both girls start to feel something they've never felt before. Something they're determined ignore. Because its one thing to stand up to an unjust world - but another to be terrified of what's in your own heart.


'The main characters are terrific in what is a moving YA novel. And an important one.' - The Telegraph' 'This is so thought-provoking it almost hurts to read it, yet every word is needed, is necessary and consequently this is a novel that lingers long after you've finished it' - Lovereading 'This is an emotional and compelling read that I did not want to put down. It is [...]beautifully written and the tension just simmers on the pages.' - Bookbabblers 'This book packs a very powerful punch' - Historical Novel Society 'With great characterisation, tough issues covered, and a plot which had me guessing right up until the last pages, this is a must-read. Massively recommended!' - The Bookbag 'This exceptional novel of first love and sexual awakenings is set against a backdrop of shocking racism and prejudice. It is incredibly well written as the tense, riveting story seamlessly combines fiction with historical fact.' - Booktrust 'Every now and then a Young Adult book comes along that I want to push into every readers hands both young and old and Lies We Tell Ourselves is that book for 2014' - Jess Hearts Books 'Talley has mixed two controversial topics together to create a firecracker of a story' - Cheryl M-M's Book Blog'

About the Author

Robin Talley

Robin Talley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, writing terrible teen poetry and riding a desegregation bus to the school across town. Robin lives in Washington, D.C., with her fiancée, plus an antisocial cat and a goofy hound dog. When Robin’s not writing, she’s often planning communication strategies at organizations fighting for equal rights and social justice.

Below is a Q&A with this author.

What inspired you to write Lies We Tell Ourselves?
I came up with the idea for Lies We Tell Ourselves while on a road trip with my parents. They both grew up in Virginia and were teenagers when their schools were first integrated in the 1960s. We were talking about their school memories, and about their fears that their schools might be closed due to the crisis over integration. I hadn’t realized how real that fear was ― that Virginia’s governor really had closed schools to prevent them from integrating, sacrificing the educations of thousands of children in favour of a horrible, bigoted political agenda. I did more research on how it all happened, and as I read more about the details, I knew I wanted to write a story set against that backdrop. I wanted to explore what it would’ve been like to go through that. And I wanted to explore what it would’ve been like to be a gay teenager in 1959, keeping such an enormous secret in such intense circumstances.

What’s your favourite moment in the book?
There’s a lot of darkness in Lies We Tell Ourselves, but there’s a moment in chapter 19 when Sarah, the main character, finally gets a chance to shine ― to show everyone who she really is. It’s one of the few times in the book when she actually allows herself to smile a little. Every time I reread that passage, I feel a swell of pride for her.

Who is your favourite character?

Instead of going back I’d love to jump forward fifty years or so, to when we’ve achieved full equality for the LGBT community and come up with a plan to ensure that immigrants are treated fairly.

What was your favourite lesson at school?
I was a big nerd. I loved most of my classes, but English was always my favourite. Anything that involved reading!

If you could invite three people, dead or alive, to a dinner party...

“Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.” – Iris Murdoch

Love is recognizing that two very different people’s imperfections can combine to make a perfect, unified whole.

I’m still quite pleased with the A I got in my Psychology lecture sophomore year of college despite having a B-minus average for most of the semester. Staying up all night cramming before the final exam pays off, kids!

There are too many to list, but my perennial favourite young adult writer is E. Lockhart, author most recently of We Were Liars.

Who would play you in a movie about your life?

I usually write in a tiny windowless room in my house in Washington, D.C., with my cat curled up at my feet and my wife coming in to check on me every so often and make sure I haven’t died.

Some of my favourite recent films are The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Social Network, and Frozen. My favourite recent books include Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler and Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

Make friends with other writers, especially writers who have the same goals you do. It’s crucial to have people you can confide in who understand what you’re going through. Writing is otherwise very, very lonely.

Actually, no ― I can’t write if there’s music playing. I’m too easily distracted! When I was writing Lies We Tell Ourselves, though, I listened to some music from the late 1950s, like Chuck Berry and Frankie Avalon, and I watched movies like Some Like It Hot and Imitation of Life to get a vibe for what the pop culture of the time was like.

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Book Info


384 pages
Interest Age: From 11


Robin Talley
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Mira Ink an imprint of Harlequin (UK)

Publication date

3rd October 2014




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