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The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson

Contemporary fiction

The Kindest Lie

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Nancy Johnson, on your first book!

by Nancy Johnson

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Quick Take

This sweeping story traces a woman's return to her struggling hometown—and the hope she finds in confronting her past.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Family_Drama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Teen

    Teens

  • Illustrated icon, Rural

    Rural

  • Illustrated icon, Marriage_Issues

    Marriage issues

Synopsis

It’s 2008, and the rise of 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 abandoned—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. While her family is happy to see her, they remind her of the painful sacrifices to give Ruth a shot at a better future—like the comfortable middle-class life she now enjoys.

Determined, Ruth begins digging into the past. As she uncovers burning secrets her family desperately wants to hide, she unexpectedly befriends Midnight, a young white boy who is also adrift and looking for connection. When a traumatic incident strains the town’s already searing racial tensions, Ruth and Midnight find themselves on a collision course that could upend both their lives.

Why I love it

Some of my favorite books are those that explore what happens when the past reasserts itself and makes a claim on the present. In this sparkling debut that opens on the eve of the 2008 U.S. presidential election, Nancy Johnson does just that and introduces an indelible, multigenerational cast of characters wrestling within a nation on the cusp of change but marked by the sins of its past.

Ruth Tuttle is a successful chemical engineer with an amazing husband she loves dearly, seemingly well on her way to claiming a part of the American Dream. But as her husband’s excitement over trying to start a family grows, Ruth’s long-held secret—that she had a baby in high school that she abandoned—begins to eat away at her. This implosion sends Ruth back to her hometown in search of her lost child and answers to the many mysteries of her family’s past.

Rare is the book that can speak equally effectively to the truths in our hearts as the issues roiling our national political conversations. But The Kindest Lie is just such a book. It masterfully captures the ways that lies—big and small, national and personal—can come to haunt us. I appreciate its care towards its characters and the attention Johnson pays to the weight of a history that is shared but not equally. This book makes a strong argument for confronting our past with courage and generosity so we might be able to forge ahead and build bonds that can weather the challenges of work, family, and romance.

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Contemporary fiction
View all
The Last Love Note
Anita de Monte Laughs Last
The Leftover Woman
The Same Bright Stars
Interesting Facts about Space
The Villain Edit
Bye, Baby
Swan Song
How to Read a Book
The Connellys of County Down
Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life
A Summer Affair
Adelaide
The Collected Regrets of Clover
Evil Eye
Maame
Advika and the Hollywood Wives
Once There Were Wolves
We Are the Brennans
Olga Dies Dreaming
If Only I Could Tell You
How Lucky
My Dark Vanessa
Nine Perfect Strangers
Honey Girl
One Italian Summer
Eight Hundred Grapes
The Unraveling of Cassidy Holmes
The Five-Star Weekend
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
The Nest
Rich and Pretty
Britt-Marie Was Here
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Startup
The Identicals
The Dinner List
Goodbye, Paris
Winter in Paradise
A Woman Is No Man
Queenie
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Beyond the Point
What Happens in Paradise
Nothing to See Here
When We Were Vikings
Anxious People
A Good Neighborhood
Big Summer
The Last Story of Mina Lee
Troubles in Paradise
White Ivy
This Close to Okay
The Removed
The Kindest Lie
Good Company
Impostor Syndrome
The Other Black Girl
Apples Never Fall
A Quiet Life
We Are the Light
The Fortunes of Jaded Women
When We Were Bright and Beautiful
The Hotel Nantucket