Summary and book reviews of The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson

The Kindest Lie

by Nancy Johnson

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson X
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2021, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 1, 2022, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
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About this Book

Book Summary

A masterful, eye-opening novel about the profound racial injustices and class inequalities roiling society in America.

A promise could betray you.

It's 2008, and the inauguration of President Barack Obama ushers in a new kind of hope. In Chicago, Ruth Tuttle, an Ivy-League educated Black engineer, is married to a kind and successful man. He's eager to start a family, but Ruth is uncertain. She has never gotten over the baby she gave birth to—and was forced to leave behind—when she was a teenager. She had promised her family she'd never look back, but Ruth knows that to move forward, she must make peace with the past.

Returning home, Ruth discovers the Indiana factory town of her youth is plagued by unemployment, racism, and despair. As she begins digging into the past, she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. Just as Ruth is about to uncover a burning secret her family desperately wants to keep hidden, a traumatic incident strains the town's already searing racial tensions, sending Ruth and Midnight on a collision course that could upend both their lives.

Powerful and revealing, The Kindest Lie captures the heartbreaking divide between Black and white communities and offers both an unflinching view of motherhood in contemporary America and the never-ending quest to achieve the American Dream.

One
Ruth

No one talked about what happened in the summer of 1997 in the house where Ruth Tuttle had grown up. In fact, there were days she remained certain she had never given birth at all. Somehow, she convinced herself that her life began when she drove away from that little shotgun house in Indiana without her baby. She had been only seventeen.

A lie could be kind to you if you wanted it to be, if you let it. With every year that passed, it became easier to put more distance between her old life and her new one. If the titles of doctor and lawyer had signaled success back in the day, then engineer had to be the 2.0 symbol that you'd made it. And she had. With Yale University conferring her degree and lending its good name to her, there was no question. And if the proof weren't in her pedigree, it manifested in her marriage to a PepsiCo marketing executive.

The upcoming presidential election stirred an unusual optimism in her husband, Xavier, and he fancied himself having ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Part of what is so captivating about The Kindest Lie is that Johnson nestles white grievances — "Black people are taking over everything" — next to black trauma. James Baldwin once said, "The imagination of a novelist has everything to do with what happens to his material." In The Kindest Lie, Johnson imagines black shame. Conscious of that shame, she builds Ruth's story with gentleness. She stacks like a sandcastle all the parts of the character, so by the end we are just as attached as Ruth is to her lost baby, her marriage, her career ambivalence, her love for her grandmother and brother...continued

Full Review Members Only (1170 words).

(Reviewed by Valerie Morales).

Media Reviews

Popsugar
Similar to The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, The Kindest Lie is an engrossing story about race, class, and coming to grips with your past…The Kindest Lie will not only pull at your heartstrings, but it will also make you want to call your family, fight racial injustice, and hold on tighter to those you love. With every page you turn, you'll see just how powerful unconditional love really is.

Washington Post
The intersecting lives of Blacks and Whites — and their divergent understanding of each other — are rendered with care...It is a tale of how lies and omissions can shape and warp us. It is a story about reconciliation, set against a backdrop of racism and resentments. But more than anything, it is a meditation on family and forgiveness.

Los Angeles Times
[A] triumph, a deeply affecting work of truth and reconciliation over what it means to live the American Dream--and not just for the winners.

Newsweek
This profound and beautiful debut is a sharp exploration of racial divides and community in America.

BookPage (starred review)
It takes tremendous talent to seamlessly combine social commentary with a powder keg of a plot, and Nancy Johnson accomplishes just that in her gripping debut novel, The Kindest Lie, addressing issues of race, class, privilege and upward mobility....A fictional callback to Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, The Kindest Lie also brings to mind Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half, in which another young Black woman returns to her hometown to try to reconcile her past, present and future. Don’t miss this powerful debut.

Bookbag (UK)
Generational secrets, class divides, motherhood, and American life on the edge of political and economic change are all examined in Johnson's engaging debut…Through well-developed characters, Johnson provides a realistic portrayal of middle America in the tumultuous era of economic collapse.

Library Journal
Johnson’s debut novel will appeal to a wide range of readers, who will be drawn into the despairing lives of her characters. Ruth’s predicament comes to a most satisfying conclusion.

Booklist
Generational secrets, class divides, motherhood, and American life on the edge of political and economic change are all examined in Johnson's engaging debut…Through well-developed characters, Johnson provides a realistic portrayal of middle America in the tumultuous era of economic collapse.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] sharp debut...powerful insights emerge on the plurality of Black American experience and the divisions between rural and urban life, and the wealthy and the working class. Johnson's clear-eyed saga hits hard.

Author Blurb Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, author of The Revisioners
A heart-wrenching portrayal of an unlikely bond, and a profound nod to the fallacy of post-racial America—The Kindest Lie is nuanced, spellbinding, and necessary.

Author Blurb Gabriel Bump, author of Everywhere You Don't Belong
In The Kindest Lie, Nancy Johnson gives us two unforgettable characters. Ruth and Midnight represent different Americas: one trending up, one spiraling down. Johnson—through graceful sentences, tenderness, dramatic expertise, and overflowing empathy—is able to twist these Americas into a singular portrait of a country in transition. This enviable debut enlightens while breaking your heart. A truly beautiful achievement.

Author Blurb Rumaan Alam, New York Times bestselling author of Leave the World Behind
The Kindest Lie is the story of one family that reveals the larger story of America itself. Taut and surprising, Nancy Johnson's debut novel tackles complex issues—ambition, romance, class—with the lightest of touches.

Author Blurb Jodi Picoult
The Kindest Lie is a deep dive into how we define family, what it means to be a mother, what secrets we owe to those we love, and what it means to grow up Black. This beautifully crafted debut will keep you asking these questions and more.

Reader Reviews

Milagros Vargas Neu

Kindest Lie
What an extraordinary writer! The plot is truly believable it hits to the bottom of your soul. I hope that the author writes another book! I will surly buy it immediately. I plan to forever keep this book on my bookshelf as a true keeper. Thank You ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Talking About Race Matters

Years ago, comedian Chris Rock told a joke: "All my black friends have a bunch of white friends and all my white friends have one black friend." It is one of those bits of humor where the laughter leaves you reflecting on a sadder truth. Particularly, that racial segregation is still normalized in white communities. To have more than one black friend is an anomaly.

As Nancy Johnson shows in her novel The Kindest Lie, interracial friendships are contextually complicated. People of different races talk about race differently. According to Pew Research data, 63% of blacks and 66% of Asians say that race or race relations come up in conversations with family and friends. 50% of whites and 49% of Hispanics say the same. But 27% of blacks say ...

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