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The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
Contemporary fiction

The Kindest Lie

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

by Nancy Johnson

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, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Teen


  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Rural_update


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MarriageIssues

    Marriage issues

Illustrated icon, Icon_Challenging_Indicator


This book contains mentions of racial violence.

Why I love it

Jerrod MacFarlane
BOTM Editorial Team

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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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.

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Get an early look from the first pages of The Kindest Lie.

Member thoughts

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All (9669)
Love (2561)
Like (5877)
Dislike (1231)
9911 ratings
  • 26% Love
  • 59% Like
  • 12% Dislike
  • south boston, MA

    slow... slow... slow... then can’t put down, need to know what happens ••• great descriptions & seems like it was plucked right out of a real person’s current life/experiences • ended up loving it

  • Arlington, VA

    Such a fantastic read. Although the book takes place in late 2008, it’s still so relevant to the hardships America is going through with racism and discrimination. I’m so happy I picked up this book.

  • Land O Lakes, FL

    A fabulous début novel that combines themes of race, class, and differing views of motherhood, set in 2008. I read this alongside Pres Obama’s new memoir, which made the backdrop even more compelling.

  • Pico Rivera, CA

    I absolutely loved this book. It’s so poignant of the struggles faced by small communities in the Midwest and how they navigate issues of race, family, the economy, and other social and gender issues.

  • Hampton bays, NY

    The Kindest Lies is about the words we tell to the people we love and the thoughts and actions we keep to ourselves. It’s love, loss, insecurities, and growth in society and our own personal worlds.

  • Cynthiana, KY

    I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was well written. There are a lot of heavy themes throughout the book. It is a book that helps a reader see things from different perspectives. Overall great!

  • Milford, MA

    Through much sacrifice-Ruth's struggling family gives her the gift of a college education. She has to come to terms about her son's adoption, before she can move forward in her marriage. Eyeopener!

  • Windsor Heights, IA

    The way this book grapples with race and class is applaudable. The fact that the backdrop is 2008 with a Black president helps to weave a believable story that asks poignant questions of its readers.

  • Ashland , WI

    Solid debut with so much soul and so many layers. While topics of race, class, marriage, parenting, inner city gang recruitment and family dysfunction are present, it is character driven at its core.

  • Kodiak, AK

    I really enjoyed this one. The depth of the characters and the relationships they had with each other made for a good read. The novel explores racism, socioeconomic status and life in a small town.

  • Shirley, NY

    I loved how i actually felt a part of the story. Being black , when Corey and midnight got in trouble my heart was racing and i just knew the worse was going to happen. Im glad it didnt. Great book!

  • Bradenton, FL

    I didn’t care for so much political reference but the storyline was awesome. When I got to a certain point I just had to know if she found out, who is it. Never guessed. I really liked the ending.

  • Stoughton, WI

    Reading this during Black History Month of February was a gift. I am taking "Justified Anger: A Black History" course at the same time, this was a gift. So many issues surface in racial disparity.

  • Racine , WI

    One of my FAVORITE books of the year. I loved the story, the characters, the city. I loved the narrative around race relations when Obama was elected and the family relations. I raced through it.

  • Alfred Station , NY

    **Trigger Warning** I was so worried that something awful was going to happen to a child in this book, but bo harm was done. A page turner and a heartwrencher. Sometimes family’s help only hurts.

  • Indianapolis, IN

    This story is beautiful, intimate, and very detailed. It touches on important topics like race, class, the recession, and the Midwest. Highly recommend if you’re looking for an emotional story.

  • Clearwater, FL

    An easy read. Touched on many issues from adoption, family bonds, small town/big city life, race, and what lengths mothers will take to give their children the best life no matter what the stakes.

  • Union, MO

    The Kindest Lie is so beautifully written, evoking what we want out of any story - empathy, understanding, and emotion. Great details reminding us the length a mother will go to for their child.

  • Lee, IL

    This is a MUST READ! I absolutely loved this book even though there were times I was angry and sad while reading it. It definitely provokes a lot of emotions and touches on a range of subjects.

  • Louisville, KY

    Beautiful debut novel. Seamlessly weaves between race, class and family issues in the most intimate way. The stories of Ruth, Midnight and their families will stay with me for a very long time.

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