I thought that this book had won the Carnegie so I told all the students that it had. Then I saw Sarah Crossan on BBC Breakfast and realised that I had made a serious error! Anyway, IMHO this had the potential to win – I really enjoyed it. Well, enjoyed it is perhaps the wrong word. It made me feel angry and ashamed that white people, not very long ago, could treat black people so badly, all for the sake of the colour of their skin.
Lies We Tell Ourselves in the story of Sarah – a black 17 year old girl who lives in America in the 1950s. the book begins with Sarah’s first day at a new school. Her parents wanted Sarah and her sister to be one of the first black students in America to go to a white High School. I had to do a bit research here (as ever) and found out that some schools in the Deep South had closed because the Governor of the State didn’t want the schools to be integrated. Eventually, Congress overruled them and the schools had to be opened. Sarah is in a group of nine black students who are attempting to integrate. I have recently read a book about JFK and Martin Luther King and the work that they did to push integration through Congress so it was interesting to see it from a teenagers POV. What came across was that their parents were fighting for this right for their children but the children themselves really struggled. I have never read a book were the hatred comes across so strongly. The first few chapters where the students are just trying to get into the building and then find their classes were amazing. These kids were spat at, racially and physically abused and derided wherever they went. It is a sad time in American History and, I think, goes some way to explain why they are in the situation they are in today. Remember, this was only 60 years ago.
The added complication is that Sarah has to work on a school project with two girls who are white. One of them is friendly enough (if a little confused) but the other one is Linda, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. She hates Sarah and Sarah hates her – at first. The book is written from both their view points and is an interesting tale of people being told to think something without actually knowing the reason behind it. Linda’s father sounds horrible and she has been brought up to believe that black people are second class citizens who don’t deserve the same education or rights as white people. Sarah is about to blow that all out of the water. As the girls spend more time together they both get more and more confused. Sarah has feelings about girls that she knows are wrong and Linda, well Linda realises that she is attracted to Sarah in a way she cannot explain. This is not a spoiler as it describes it quite accurately on the front of the book!
This book is mesmerising. It is so evocative of the time, and the awful things that black people had to go through just to get the same fair, basic treatment as white people – in their own country. It is another book that should make you feel grateful that you are alive at a time when we have never had more freedom of choice. It should also remind everyone that we have a lot to be thankful for, our battles pale in to insignificance against the wall of hatred and abuse that these kids must have suffered. A powerful book that will make you think.
Further reading – Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett – This is a trilogy starting with Fall of Giants. Well worth a read if you have some time as they are big books but they are really informative and easy to read and will give you lot of information about 20th Century history.
Also, 11.22.63 by Stephen King.