Lies We Tell Ourselves: A New York Times bestseller

Lies We Tell Ourselves: A New York Times bestseller

by Robin Talley

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460330456
Publisher: Harlequin
Publication date: 09/30/2014
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 127,730
File size: 511 KB
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Robin Talley studied literature and communications at American University. She lives in Washington, DC, with her wife, but visits both Boston and New York regularly despite her moral opposition to Massachusetts winters and Times Square. Her first book was 2014's Lies We Tell Ourselves. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @robin_talley.

Read an Excerpt

LIE #1

Theres no need to be afraid.

Jefferson High School, Davisburg, Virginia

February 2,1959

THE WHITE PEOPLE are waiting for us.

Chuck sees them first. He's gone out ahead of our group to peer around the corner by the hardware store. From there you can see all of Jefferson High.

The gleaming redbrick walls run forty feet high. The building is a block wide, and the windowpanes are spotless. A heavy concrete arch hangs over the two-story wood-and-glass doors at the front entrance.

The only thing between us and the school is the parking lot. And the white people.

We've all walked past Jefferson a thousand times before, but this will be the first time any of us steps inside. Until today, those big wooden doors might as well have been triple-locked, and we didn't have the key.

Our school, on the other side of town, is only one story. It's narrow—no wider than the Food Town. Our teachers put boards in the windows to cover the cracks in the glass, but that's not enough to stop the wind from whistling past us at our desks.

Our old school, anyway. Jefferson is supposed to be our school now.

If we can make it through those big brown doors.

"They're out there all right," Chuck says when he comes back. He's trying to smile, but he just looks frozen. "Somebody sent out the welcome committee."

No one laughs. We can hear the white people. They're shouting, but the sound is too disjointed for us to make out the words.

I'm glad. I don't want to hear. I don't want my little sister Ruth to hear it, either. I try to pull her closer to me, but she jerks away. Ruth will be fifteen in two weeks, and she already thinks she's too old to need help from her big sister.

"If anything happens, you come find me, all right?" I whisper. "Don't trust the teachers or the white people. Come straight to me."

"I can take care of myself," Ruth whispers back. She steps away from me and links arms with Yvonne, one of the other freshmen.

"What are you gonna do if they try something?" Chuck asks Ennis. He keeps his voice low, trying to blend in with the dull roar coming from the school, so the younger kids won't hear him. Chuck, Ennis and I are the only three seniors in our group. Most of the others are freshmen and sophomores. "They've got some big guys on that football team."

"Never mind that," Ennis says, raising his voice so the others can hear. "They won't try anything, not in school. All they'll do is call us names, and we'll just ignore them and keep walking. Isn't that right, Sarah?"

"That's right," I echo. I want to sound in charge, like Mrs. Mul-lins, but my voice wobbles.

Ennis holds my eye. His face looks like Daddy's did this morning, when he watched Ruth and me climb into the carpool station wagon. Like he's taking a good, long look, in case he doesn't get another chance.

Ennis sounds like Daddy, too. My father and Mrs. Mullins and the rest of the NAACP leaders have been coaching us on the rules since the summer, when the court first said the school board had to let us into the white school. Rule One: Ignore anything the white people say to you and keep walking. Rule Two: Always sit at the front of the classroom, near the door, so you can make a quick getaway if you need to. And Rule Three: Stay together whenever you possibly can.

"What if they spit on us?" one of the freshmen boys whispers. The ten of us are walking so tightly together down the narrow sidewalk we can't help but hear each other now, but none of us makes any move to separate. "We're supposed to stand there and take it?"

"You take it unless you want to get something worse after school lets out," Chuck says.

There's a glint in Chuck's eye. I don't think he'll take anything he doesn't want to take.

I wonder what he thinks is going to happen today. I wonder if he's ready.

I thought I was. Now I'm not so sure.

"Listen up, everybody, this is important." Ennis sounds serious and official, like the NAACP men. "Remember what they told us. Look straight ahead and act like you don't hear the white people. If a teacher says something to you, you don't talk back. Don't let anybody get you alone in the bathroom or on the stairs. And no matter what happens, you just keep walking."

"What if somebody tries to hang us from the flagpole?" the freshman says. "Do we just keep walking then, too?"

"You watch your mouth," Chuck tells him. "You'll scare the girls."

I want to tell him the girls are plenty scared already.

Instead I straighten my shoulders and lift my head. The younger kids are watching me. I can't let them see how my stomach is dropping to my feet. How the fear is buzzing in my ear like a mosquito that won't be swatted away.

We round the corner. Across the street, Jefferson High School sweeps into view. The white people are spread out across the front steps and the massive parking lot. Now I know why we could hear the crowd so well. There must be hundreds of them. The whole student body, all standing there. Waiting.

"Just like I said," Chuck says. He lets out a low whistle. "Our very own personal welcome wagon."

Ahead of me, Ruth shivers, despite her bulky winter coat. Under it she's wearing her favorite blue plaid dress with the crinoline slip and brand-new saddle shoes. I'm in my best white blouse, starched stiff. Our hair is done so nice it might as well be Easter Sunday. Mama fixed it last night, heating the hot combs on the stove and yanking each strand smooth. Everything's topsy-turvy with school starting in February instead of September, but we're all in our best clothes anyway. No one wants the white people to think we can't afford things as nice as theirs.

I try to catch Chuck's eye, but he isn't paying attention to me. He's looking at the crowd.

They're watching us.

They're shouting.

Each new voice is sharper and angrier than the last.

I still can't make out what they're saying, but we're not far now.

I want to cover Ruth's ears. She'd never let me. Besides, she'll hear it soon enough no matter what I do.

Our group has gone quiet. The boys are done blustering. Ruth lets go of Yvonne and steps back toward me. Behind us, a girl hiccups.

What if one of them starts crying? If the white people see us in tears, they'll laugh. They'll think they've beaten us before we've begun. We have to look strong.

I close my eyes, take a long breath and recite in my clearest voice. "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want."

Ruth joins in. "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters."

Then, all ten of us, in the same breath. "He restoreth my soul."

Some of them have spotted us from across the street. The white boys at the front of the crowd are pushing past each other to get the first look at us.

Police officers line the school's sidewalks in front of the boys. They're watching us, too.

I don't bother looking back at them. The police aren't here to help us. Their shiny badges are all that's stopping them from yelling with the other white people. For all we know they trade in those badges for white sheets at night.

Then reporters are running toward us. A flashbulb goes off in my face. The heat singes my eyes. All I see is bright white pain.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

I want to reach for Ruth, but my hands are shaking. It's all I can do to hold on to my books.

"Are you afraid?" a reporter shouts, shoving a microphone at my chin. "If you succeed, you'll be the first Negroes to set foot in a white school in this state. What do you think will happen once you get inside?"

I step around him. Ruth is holding her head high. I lift mine, too.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.

We're almost at the parking lot now. We can hear the shouts. "Here come the niggers!" yells a boy on the steps. "The niggers are coming!"

The rest of the crowd takes up his chant, as if they rehearsed it. "The niggers! The niggers! The niggers!"

I try to take Ruth's hand. She shakes me away, but her shoulders are quivering.

I wish she wasn't here with us. I wish she didn't have to do this.

I wish I didn't have to do this.

I think about what the white reporter said. If you succeed…

And if we don't?

"It will be all right," I tell Ruth.

But my words are drowned out in the shouting.

"Mau maus!"

"Tar babies!"


And "nigger." Over and over.

"Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Nigger! Nigger!"

I've never been called a nigger in my life. Not until today.

We step over the curb. The white people jostle us, bumping up against us, trying to shove us back. We keep pushing forward, slowly, but it's hard. The crowd isn't moving, so we have to slide between them. Ennis and Chuck go in front, clearing a path, ignoring the elbows to their sides and shoves at their chests.

I want to put Ruth behind me, but then I couldn't see her, and what if we got separated? What would I tell Mama and Daddy?

I grab her arm too tight, my fingers digging in. Ruth doesn't complain. She leans in closer to me.

"Go back to Africa!" someone shouts by my ear. "We don't want niggers in our school!"

Just walk. Get inside. Get Ruth inside. When the reporters go away everyone will calm down. If we can get through this part it will be all right.

My cup runneth over.

Ruth's arm jerks away from me. I almost fall, my legs swaying dangerously under me, but I catch myself before I collapse.

I turn toward Ruth, or where she should be. Three older boys, their backs to me, are standing around my little sister, towering over her. One of them steps close to her. Too close. He knocks the books out of her arms, into the dirt.

I lunge toward them, but Ennis is faster. He dodges through a gap between the boys—he doesn't shove them; we're not allowed to touch any of them, no matter what they do to us—and pulls Ruth back toward me, leaving her books where they fell. He nods at me in a way that almost makes me believe he's got everything under control.

He doesn't. He can't. If the boys do anything to him, Ennis doesn't stand a chance, not with three against one. But they let him go, snarling, "We're gonna make your life Hell, black boy."

Ruth's still holding her chin high, but she's shaking harder than ever. I wrap my hand back around her arm. My knuckles go pale. I swallow. Once, twice, three times. Enough to keep my eyes steady and my cheeks dry.

"What about my books?" Ruth asks me.

"We'll get you new books." The blood is rushing in my ears. I remember I should've thanked Ennis. I look for him, but he's surrounded by another group of white boys.

I can't help him. I can't stop walking.

Two girls, their faces all twisted up, start a new chant. "Two, four, six, eight! We don't want to integrate!"

Others join in. The whole world is a sea of angry white faces and bright white flashbulbs. "Two, four, six, eight! We don't want to—"

"Is the NAACP paying you to go to school here?" a reporter shouts. "Why are you doing this?"

A girl pushes past the reporter to yell in my ear. Her voice is so shrill I'm sure my eardrum will burst. "Niggers go home! Dirty niggers go home!"

Ennis is back in front, pushing through the crowd with Chuck. Ennis is very tall, so he's easy to spot. People always ask if he plays basketball. He hates it because he's terrible at basketball. He's the best player on the football and baseball teams, though.

He was at our old school, anyway. That's all done now that he's coming to Jefferson. No sports for the boys, no choir for me, no cheerleading for Ruth. No dances or plays for any of us. No extracurriculars, that's what Mrs. Mullins said, not this year.

Something flies through the air toward Ennis. I shout for him to duck, but I'm too late. Whatever it is bounces off his head. Ennis keeps moving like he didn't even feel it.

I look for the police. They're standing on the curb, watching us. One sees me looking and points toward the main entrance. Telling me to keep moving.

He's looking right at us. He must have seen Ennis get hit.

He doesn't care. None of them do.

I bet they'd care if we threw things back.

"Nigger!" The girl is still shrieking at me. "Nigger! Nigger! You're nothing but a filthy, stinking nigger!"

We're almost there. The door is only a few yards away, but the crowd of white people in front of it is too thick. And the shouts are getting louder.

We'll never make it. We were stupid to think this could ever work.

I wonder if they knew that. The police. The judge. Mrs. Mullins. Daddy. Mama. Did they think we'd even get this far? Did they think this was enough?

Maybe next year. Maybe the year after that. Someday, they'll let us through, but not today.

Please, God, let this be over.

Someone shrieks behind me. I glance back.

Yvonne is clutching her neck. I can't tell if she's bleeding.

"Yvonne!" Ruth tries to turn back, but I hold her arm. We can worry about Yvonne later.

"Nigger!" The white girl at my shoulder is so close I can feel her hot breath on my face. "Coon digger! Stinking nigger!"

"Oh!" Ruth stumbles. I reach to catch her before she falls, but she finds her footing quickly. She's wiping something off her face.

The boy who spat on her is grinning. I want to hit him, hard, shove him back into the group of boys behind him. See how he likes it when he's not the one with the power.

Instead I keep walking, propelling my sister forward. We're inching closer to the doors.

We're not so far now. Maybe we can get inside. Inside, it will be better.

"You know you ain't going in there, nigger!" the girl screeches in my ear. "You turn around and go home if you know what's good for you! We don't want no niggers in our school!"

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Lies We Tell Ourselves 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never cry.
soulunsung More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written and incredibly brave, Lies We Tell Ourselves, is an emotionally captivating novel that will stay with readers long after the last page has been read. Set during a tumultuous time of hatred, intolerance, and ignorance this book sheds light on the truth amidst a web of lies. The sheer amount of courage, bravery, and determination these two young women possess as they endure all they have to go through is incredibly inspiring and hopeful in so many ways. This book moved me in so many ways, that it will definitely be an unforgettable read. It made me angry, it made me cry, and it gave me hope that things can start to change for the better. As I sat there reading, I felt transfixed to the story that was being told and I felt ashamed that the things that were happening, do still continue to happen in today's society.  Two young women, who are as different as night and day, have grown up in two different worlds. As their world's begin to collide, a lot more than sparks begin to ignite between them. Linda is a privileged white girl and Sarah is one of the first African American girls to set foot in an all-white privileged school. It's hard to find anything likable about Linda in the first half of the book, but at the same time you begin to realize that you can't necessarily blame her for her attitude. It's an attitude that is learned from her parents, her peers, and their parents as well. In some ways, as you read through her story, you will start to understand that she's just as much a victim in her own way as Sarah is.  Growing up in a home where she is ignored by her father and often times criticized as well as repressed, Linda knows there is something different about her and she's terrified of it. She is terrified of change and to speak out against it, but once she meets Sarah and the two argue constantly as much as they get to know one another in all of the little ways that counts, she begins to realize that maybe what she's been taught to believe isn't right and that change starts within and only you can do that for yourself if you're brave enough. The way she's been taught to view the world starts to make less sense to her and you can start to see the changes in her attitude shift slowly throughout the story being told.  Sarah is this amazingly strong, beautiful, talented, and courageously brave young African American woman who is attending this all-white privileged school. The strength she possesses is awe-inspiring and incredibly amazing, in the face of what she has to go through as she attends this school that doesn't want her or anyone of her kind there. Despite the number of times the rest of the students that attend this school try and make her existence there as miserable as possible, Sarah stands up to it and she endures it, and she never lets it break her. She's not afraid to speak her mind, when she witnesses the injustice that happens to the rest of the African American students that have integrated and she does everything humanly possible to protect her younger sister Ruth, so that she doesn't have to endure it to the extremes that she has herself.  Lies We Tell Ourselves is an eye-opening, heartbreaking, and beautifully written novel that will leave an everlasting impression on you. The courage and integrity that went into this story, is incredibly awe-inspiring that it will leave you feeling all of the emotions as you try and sort through them. There is a definite need for more books like these written in both the YA and NA world of literature. It doesn't just touch on what it was like during the Civil Rights movement, when integration was first coming into existence and it doesn't just touch on racism, it also touches on LGBTQ rights as well. Robin Talley did a marvelous job at showing us how these two beautiful young women navigated the muddy waters of integration and dealing with the fact that they are both attracted to girls instead of boys, let alone each other. I find it incredibly hard to put into words how much I enjoyed reading this book and just how inspired I was by it.  There were just so many incredibly sad moments that broke my heart into a million pieces and some truly wonderful surprises within the pages of this beautiful book, that I know without a doubt is a story that will stay with me forever. It is something that made me stop and think twice, as I read all of the horrible miserable things that Sarah endure and as I sat there trying to understand where Linda was coming from. There were also some incredibly powerful moments within the story as well, that can and will offer hope to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation. I don't know how and I honestly don't know why just yet, but I feel as if there are some wonderful healing power contained within the pages of this book. This is a book that I would love to see as assigned reading curriculum in schools nation-wide, because I believe it is that important. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For a fictional historical book, "Lies We Tell Ourselves", by Robin Talley it was a very emotional roller coaster. With the details of the Civil Rights movement going on and everyone having equal rights on their minds about black and whites integrating, it was hard to believe to find out the African American girl was also hiding a secret about her sexuality. At such time of abuse verbally and physically, she did not want it to get out that she was gay. She knew it would only make matters worse. And with her project partner being a white American girl, she had to over come that challenge as well. With all the newspaper articles about how integration is a negative for the country, it was hard to have the locals on their side. With that being said when violence broke out, most tried to let it happen and not fight back, otherwise it would look bad on their part and that the citizens are only defending what was theirs first. On the other hand the girls must learn to put aside the differences and work as a team together. There is struggles to this and there is always obstacles that get in the way. Some may give in to the battle but others remain tall and take what is given to them whether it be good or bad. I would definitely recommend this book, though it is not nonfiction it really gives you an insight on how the people of our country was to others in the nation not many years ago.
SourcerellaNJ More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book by Robin Talley. The book immediately throws readers in the heart of the Civil Rights movement as one school attempts to become racially integrated. Many parents and community members are against integration, and the violence and verbal abuse that the African American students face is atrocious. The book alternates perspectives between an African American teenage girl, who has to go to this previously all-white school, and a white girl, whose father works for the local newspaper and publishes anti-integration articles in his paper. When the two girls are forced to work together on a project, can they learn to put their differences aside and work cohesively? A must read for fans of YA and historical/realistic fiction. The LGBT undertone enhances the Civil Rights fight, as the girls must struggle with more than just what's on the surface.
KDH_Reviews More than 1 year ago
Three Sentence Review Lies We Tell Ourselves is an extremely well written, powerful historical fiction novel. It perfectly illustrates how far we've come in the fight for equality since 1959 (even though we still have a long way to go). And though the ending was a bit predictable, it far exceeded any expectations I had prior to reading it (from reviews alone). This book will certainly be one of my most recommended reads of 2014. You can read more of my reviews on my blog, KDH Reviews.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
This book rocked my world! I loved this book as it stirred in me a passion that needed to be awakened. I was naïve enough to start this book an hour before my typical bedtime which silly me, put me 2 hours past my typical bedtime before I could actually find a place to put my bookmark in for the night. I dreamt this book, I wanted to hold onto this book and drain from it all the powers that it bestowed. I was furious and agitated with the issues these ten students endured, embarrassed at the behaviors of others who thought they ruled, eager to get through the book hoping for a resolution and loving every word the author wrote. We’re all human, no one’s better than anyone else. We all deserve an opportunity to succeed. I can’t wait to read this one again, and that in itself says a lot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Real eye opener
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Important book for everyone
nbrandim More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to see Linda's transformation and internal battle. If you're coming to read the book just for the lesbian aspect, you might not be thrilled as there isn't much because the book deals with a much larger issue: race. I highly recommend the book for a good read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to review 2 times
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
itsraymarie More than 1 year ago
I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to feel about this one, but Lies We Tell Ourselves is a powerful book. But also one that's going to be hard to review, so bear with me. This book tackles two huge issues: racism and sexual orientation. Now, this had the potential to go so wrong, but it didn't. Both were dealt with in a way that packed a punch, but was not offensive. Instead, it will open your eyes to what it was really like back then. We all know the history, but seeing it from the perspective of teenagers will make you look at it differently. Sarah Dunbar is one of the first black kids to be let into the all-white high school. As a senior, she will be the first black student to graduate from Jefferson High School. No one needs to be told how huge this is. But every day is a battle. Linda Hairston is the daughter of one of the most vocal opponents of segregation. She thinks she knows what she believes, but being forced to work with Sarah on a project has her rethinking what she thought she knew. Although there was nothing too explicit, violence or otherwise, there was still enough to pack an emotional punch. (There was a quite a bit of language, but that was to be expected.) Both girls start out just doing what their parents want, what they believe makes them good daughters. But both girls show tremendous growth, especially Sarah. Knowing what we know about history and what is right and wrong, Linda might be harder to swallow. But seeing it from her perspective was interesting. Yes, most of what she thinks was shoved down her throat by her father, but she does eventually start thinking for herself, and that was great the see. I loved the dual perspective, as it really helped add dimension to the story. I loved how at the end, both characters came into their own (and also Ruth, Sarah's sister) and discovered more about themselves. This book definitely had some great moments, and was a great and realistic historical fiction.
DubaiReader1 More than 1 year ago
Black students fight for the right to attend all-white schools. This is an interesting Young Adult book about the struggles the African descendants had when they first integrated white schools in the US in the 1950s. If it had stayed on topic I might well have been giving five stars, unfortunately the impact was lost with the introduction of a homosexual element, and the book became about two issues, each diluting the other. A group of ten black youngsters are the first to join the exclusively white Jefferson High. They had all been happy, high achievers in their previous all-black school, but find themselves relegated to the remedial classes in Jefferson High. They are constantly heckled, nudged and worse, but their parents encourage them to persevere in the name of integration. The novel covers their first year in the school and we follow the ten students through to graduation. How many of them can take the pressure? Sarah is one of the two narrators, she joins the school with her younger sister, Ruth. The second narrator is Linda, a 'popular' white girl, whose father is one of the most outspoken opponents of integration. They are forced to undertake a French project together and both reluctantly learn a lot from each other. Both are pawns of their parents, but can they shake off these influences and do what is truly right for them? Similar children must have endured such treatments throughout the States, as they stood up for their rights to a good education and fought for their peers in the future. It was horrendous how unwavering their opponents were, never easing off for an entire year. The book left me with a profound respect for them all, whether they each succeeded, or not. 3.5 stars.
Andrea17 More than 1 year ago
Lies We Tell Ourselves is both amazing and heartbreaking. There were many times while I was reading it that Joe would comment on the concerned looks on my face. I couldn't believe some of the things that were happening to these students. Sarah and nine other students from Johns High School had volunteered to be the first to integrate into Jefferson High School. The school is starting late as the governor closed all the schools that were court ordered to integrate. If that isn't sickening enough, from the very first day these ten students have to face racism and injustice from not only their peers but also some of the teachers. Paper is thrown at them. Awful words said their way. They are followed and harassed from class to class and once they're in class, all the white students move away from them due to their "smell." They're aren't just treated as lower human beings, they're treated as lower lifeforms.  While I know that Sarah and Linda are fictional, they're strength is something I cannot but help admire. Sarah goes to Jefferson High everyday, attempting to block out the negative things said and done to her, with her head held high. She is going through what may be the most difficult and horrifying part of her life but she remains strong and knows that what she is doing will change the country for future generations. And despite her daily fear, she continues to fight. Linda begins the story insisting that the students integrating are instigators and they're the ones at fault for everything. She is a popular white girl whose father runs the local newspaper and promotes segregation with every breath in his body. Slowly, through her interaction with Sarah, Linda begins to show her doubt and uncertainty regarding segregation. It's amazing to see Linda's transformation from somebody who believes "separate but equal" to an individual who learns that skin color has nothing to do with personality. That her black classmates are not lesser than her and her friends, but just as capable and in some cases better than those surrounding her. The lesbian angle is interesting as well. Not only are these two young girls going against the social norms of blacks and whites, but they are going against their moral/religious ones as well. They acknowledge to themselves that they have feelings for one another, but worry about God's view on their feelings. While I understand that there are unfortunately still cases of racism and bigotry in today's world, reading about it during a time when the behavior was "normal" and "accepted" really opens your eyes to the fight this group of people went through just to obtain the same rights as white individuals. To see the things people believed in - their black will get on you if you touch them, they're brains don't work the same, they're of lower class and moral fiber - is sickening. I love Lies We Tell Ourselves. The story is incredibly moving. The characters strong, smart, and real. This isn't just a book about growing up black and white or going to school in a newly integrated school in Virginia, or about being gay in the late 1950s. Lies We Tell Ourselves is about growing up and learning to think for ourselves and not what everybody around us is telling us to think. It's about finding our voice when other try to squash it. It's about standing up for what we believe in, for what is right. It's about friendship and love. And it's something you definitely shouldn't miss out on reading.