Tag Archives: Robin Talley

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

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Lies We Tell Ourselves

For someone like me who gets nervous before even pretty ordinary events, reading Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, about a group of the first black students to attend a white school in Virginia in 1959, was almost unbearably frightening. This is a work of fiction, but based on real people’s experiences, doing this very thing. Going to a school where they are not only not wanted, but stared at, shouted at, and generally attacked in ‘small’ ways every day. (And occasionally much bigger ways.) A place where the students count the minutes left of the school day, when they have to try and escape unhurt. The – ineffective – police were only present on the first morning. After that it was every student for themselves.

The topic is so incredibly interesting, because although most of us have read historical descriptions of the early black pioneers for integration in education, I don’t think we’ve really put ourselves in their places. Not stopped to think about what it really must have been like. Because we didn’t have to. Because many of us are white.

So, desegregation in schools would have been more than enough for one novel to deal with. I was a little surprised to find that Robin also added a relationship between a black girl and a white girl, making it an early lesbian issue, on top of everything else. I suspected this was more than would make sense.

But I was wrong. It is what makes Lies We Tell Ourselves a very special book. OK, I didn’t buy the instant attraction between them on the first day when Sarah, the black student, is already incredibly tense over the whole situation. But from then on, the reader can see the situation develop, from both sides.

Sarah is your ‘typical’ black role model; polite to all, intelligent, pretty, sings like an angel, and courageous. The same can be said about Linda, but she happens to be the daughter of a racist newspaperman, and she herself believes in the supremacy of white people and absolutely does not want black students in her school.

It’d be easy to expect a clichéd story about these two girls. But that’s not what Robin gives us. This is very, very good. And frightening. And I’m glad people like Sarah and her nine fellow black students did go through with this, or we’d probably still be looking at segregated schools.

I know. Things are still not right. But reading a book like this will tell you we are on the right path. Hopefully.

Even without the integration issues, this would count as an interesting ‘historical’ document, on how American teenagers lived fifty years ago. Yes, we see some of it in films, but this sets out the rules for dating and going steady and all those things we are only vaguely aware of. It’s fascinating!

Robin Talley, Lies We Tell Ourselves

Robin Talley, Lies We Tell Ourselves

I have added the US book cover on the right, because although the UK one is striking, its American counterpart really brings home the period and the way people looked. Makes it feel real.