By Alex Davies

The latest book that we’re covering in the Children’s Legal Centre ‘Reading your rights’ series is called ‘Lies we Tell Ourselves’ written by Robin Talley. The book itself was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal and has been described as “A moving young adult novel and an important one” by the Daily Telegraph.

Set in mid twentieth century America, when the civil rights battle for the African American community was raging. ‘Lies we tell ourselves’ is a novel that examines the basic human rights everyone has, irrespective of where they are from or the colour of their skin. In this blog, I’ve highlighted how human rights are not respected by some of the characters in the novel and where the law in Wales and the United Kingdom would protect against this if it were to happen today.

If you’re thinking of reading ‘Lies we tell ourselves’, or about giving it to someone as a present, it’s worth knowing that the book is suitable for young adults, but contains explicit language which is true to the time when the story is set, and emphasises the awful situation where the events take place. Reader’s discretion is advised!

How does the UNCRC work in the UK:

The key rights that are important in this book are contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child or as it is more commonly known as, the UNCRC.

The UNCRC is not binding on the UK, however it puts obligations on the State, so for example Wales or England, to ensure that the rights of children are protected. The UK Government, and the Welsh Government, have powers to make laws which can make the rights under the UNCRC a reality. The Welsh Government has incorporated the UNCRC into law – the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Welsh) Measure 2011.  This obliges the Welsh Government to consider the UNCRC when creating laws.  The rest of the UK has not followed suit but it has enacted legislation which should protect children’s rights

The issues that are raised in Lies We Tell Ourselves are covered by laws that are made by the UK – laws which cover discrimination, hate crime, religious freedom, access to justice.

Use of Racist Words:

Throughout the novel, Caucasian characters use swear words to describe African American characters’ skin colour. This is very shocking to us today in a society where most people are accepting of everyone, irrespective of their race, nationality, colour of skin, sexuality and so on but the story is set during the civil rights struggle when language like this was routinely used to intimidate the African American community in America.

As well as being shocking, using swear words to describe someone’s personal characteristics such as the colour of their skin, is discrimination, something that the UNCRC does not allow.

Our blog looks at legal issues in the young adult novel The Lies we Tell OurselvesThe articles of the UNCRC that would likely be invoked by use of racist words against children would be Article 2, Article 8 and Article 19. Article 2 of the UNCRC relates to the child not being discriminated against. The use of expletives is a form of discrimination as it singles out African Americans from the Caucasians in the story.

Article 8 of the UNCRC relates to the protection and preservation of the child’s identity. By allowing racist language to be used the American government was not helping to protect the African American individuals’ identity during this period of history.

Article 19 of the UNCRC relates to protection from violence, abuse and neglect. Use of racist words is a form of abuse and very little is being done by the school or government to protect these children from this abuse. A common theme throughout the novel is also that the African American characters are subjected to violent acts towards them. Chuck is sent to hospital as a result of Bo beating him up because of the colour of his skin..

The position of the law in Wales and the United Kingdom is that everyone is protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010.  The violence and abuse that the African American students suffered in the book would also be classified as ‘hate crimes’ under the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

The book shows the reader that everyone should be respectful of each other for many reasons. Discrimination does not play any role in a functional society and this book sends out this message loud and clear. It is shown by Linda becoming close to Sarah in the later chapters of the book.

Chuck Getting Beaten Up by Bo:

Later on in the novel, another act of discrimination happens when an African American character is arrested for a crime simply because of the colour of his skin. Once again, it would breach Article 2 UNCRC, the right to not be discriminated against but it would also violate Article 40 UNCRC.

Article 40 is the right to juvenile justice. This means that a child who is suspected of committing an offence should be treated fairly and have a fair trial if it goes that far. The only reason why the African American character was suspected of the crime in question was due to the colour of his skin which breaches Article 40. He has not been fairly treated when being arrested and it is likely that he would not be treated fairly if the case were to go to full trial.

Whilst youth justice is not one of the key principle of law that was discussed within ‘Lies we tell ourselves’ it is a very important one in helping you understand your rights were you to run into trouble in relation to the law in the United Kingdom.

Religious Beliefs:

Find out more about the law on religious discrimination and the role of the UNCRC behind the novel The Lies we Tell Ourselves

A key theme throughout ‘Lies we tell ourselves’ is a belief in God. Whilst it not might be part of your beliefs, it is for a lot of people. Article 14 UNCRC gives children the right to respect for their views and beliefs. Throughout ‘Lies we tell ourselves’, Linda and others show beliefs towards God and the Christian faith. Article 14 provides the legal framework to protect against people discrimination and abuse for holding these beliefs. If this were to occur in the United Kingdom, then these children who hold these religious beliefs would be protected by the laws against discrimination.

Again, the right to respect for your religious beliefs is not one of the main legal principles which arises throughout this novel but I believe that it is an important right to be aware of.

Extra Issues for Future Reviews:

The legal issues that have been discussed above are certainly not the only issues that are highlighted in the novel but are some of the most important. The book also covers racism by the police, and the question of children’s ability to make their own decisions in relation to their education.

My Opinion of the Book:

‘Lies we tell ourselves’ is a very well-written novel that really tugs at your heart strings. It raises some vital issues to learn from as a young adult, such as the ability to treat people equally irrespective of their skin colour and other issues such as the diversity of beliefs, which is absolutely vital today in the 21st century. It is a great, inspiring book which I consider a must read.

Please keep an eye out for further editions of ‘Reading My Rights’.

I am Alex Davies, a third year Law student at Swansea University. My ambition is to become a Family Lawyer and projects such as ‘Reading your Rights’ help myself to gain familiarity and experience with the law surrounding children. My favourite books as a child were the Captain Underpants books but that is only because I did not read many books when I was younger. The last book I read was actually a Sports law book called ‘Done Deal’ by Daniel Geey. It is a great book for anyone wanting to look at the world of football in a different way.


I hope you enjoy my review of ‘Lies We Tell Ourselves’ and I would thoroughly recommend reading the book for yourself.