Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
I have great respect and admiration for those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. I am awed by their courage to stand up and say “No more” to laws and people and attitudes so ingrained in society and everyday life. I cannot imagine what it was like for those who marched and boycotted; those who sat at lunch counters and at the front of buses; those who protested peacefully and practiced non-violence; those who fought in the courts and in the streets to obtain the basic rights and dignity that we all deserve.
This story follows the first African American students to attend an all white high school in a small Virginia town. Ten students are finally allowed to go years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of it. The governor and parents fought it. The school closed down for months to prevent it from happening – better for no one to go to school than to let ‘them’ go.
Sarah Dunbar and her sister are among the ten. Through Sarah’s voice, we experience her life. We hear the racist chants by students and adults. We feel the spit on her clothes. We see teachers acting indifferent to the bullying if not expressing their own distaste of her presence in their classroom. We feel the ugliness of racism. Sarah is a senior and one of the top students at the all black school. Her parents moved to Virginia to be part of the movement, but it is Sarah and Ruth who must face daily onslaught and threats.
Had we just had Sarah’s voice, the story might have become overwhelming and desensitizing but we also hear from Linda Harrison whose father runs a newspaper and is one of the most vocal opponents to integration. She spouts the same hateful things her father has been saying her whole life about black people. She tries to defend segregation as Southern tradition. She believes it is unnatural for races to mix and be together in the same places. She knows God never meant for that to happen. Linda also blames the ten for messing up her senior year – if they had not riled things up, she could go to prom.
It is only when Sarah and Linda are put together for a school project that Linda begins to see Sarah differently and Sarah gets the opportunity to tell a white person how she truly feels.
This story takes the reader right into the minds of these brave students. We see all they see and hear all they hear. We know the excruciating reality they face every day. It is unpleasant and shameful. The story did go in a direction I was not initially expecting. If the author was trying to draw parallels with today’s issues, I don’t believe it was necessary. Nonetheless, this is a compelling read.
~Review by Will Smither, Indy PL Librarian and Teen Services Committee. You Know You Wanna Read It Blog.