America’s Deep South, 1959. Black children are educated in segregated schools, but a High Court ruling means the white schools must allow in black pupils, opening the way for explosive conflict in a dark period of US history - and one that quite likely UK children will know little about.
'Lies we Tell Ourselves' thrusts us right in the heart of the issues, in a gripping and thought-provoking story that centres around Sarah, a bright student and one of a handful who is chosen to be on the frontline - taking on white society by taking her place in one of the elite white-only schools.
Sarah's politically motivated father tells her she has a duty to get ‘the very best education I can’. Yet this is impossible as in the white school she is not only put in remedial class and ignored by the teachers, she and the handful of other black students endure constant verbal and physical abuse, from other students, teachers and senior staff.
Sarah and her incredibly brave friends become political footballs and no-one, not even the movement supporting her, takes any steps to ensure their safety and what follows is shocking, raw and based on real-life events.
Yet the main thrust of the story is not only Sarah's heroism, but her growing friendship with Linda. Linda, daughter of an ardent segregationist, is distressed when put on a project with Sarah, but the two girls spark off each other, and it shocks them both when a romance blossoms, giving a surprising emotional heart to a political story.
The real strength of the book is the success of the twin narrative and readers will easily find themselves asking what they might do if faced with a similar situation. Even if you think how everyone behaves is wrong – how many people have the courage to stand up for it?
The story of two girls, finding courage in their own way, is what makes this a constantly surprising novel.