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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

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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, Icon_FamilyDrama

    Family drama

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Teen


  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Rural_update


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MarriageIssues

    Marriage issues


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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The Kindest Lie



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 everything new. First, he convinced her they should buy the new town house in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Then a new Lexus LX 570 that could easily seat eight. He wasn’t just angling for more leg room, either. Sooner rather than later, he wanted a baby. It’s time. When Xavier repeated those words, Ruth stretched her lips into a smile, neglecting to mention she was already a mother, if in name only.

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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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Member ratings (11,811)

  • Josephine G.


    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

  • Alexandra S.

    East Palo Alto, CA

    Halfway through the book, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are beautiful, real, and flawed — In all the best says. It’s a raw journey but fulled with hope. It’ll you at the edge of your seat.

  • Whitney S.

    Pittsburgh, PA

    This book, Nancy’s first novel, hits it out of the park! She beautifully, honestly and gracefully approaches pain/struggle in all walks of life while highlighting the disparity that exists for POC ❤️

  • Kristen H.

    Alexandria, 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.

  • Jessica H.

    Asheville, NC

    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.

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