• The Kindest Lie

  • A Novel
  • By: Nancy Johnson
  • Narrated by: Shayna Small
  • Length: 11 hrs and 5 mins
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (631 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Recommended by O Magazine * GMA * Elle * Marie Claire * Good Housekeeping * NBC News * Shondaland * Chicago Tribune * Woman's Day * Refinery 29 * Bustle * The Millions * New York Post * Parade * Hello! Magazine * PopSugar * and more!

The Kindest Lie is a deep dive into how we define family, what it means to be a mother, and what it means to grow up Black...beautifully crafted.” —JODI PICOULT

"A fantastic story...well-written, timely, and oh-so-memorable."—Good Morning America

The Kindest Lie is a layered, complex exploration of race and class." —The Washington Post

Every family has its secrets...

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 heart-stopping 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 unforgettable, The Kindest Lie is the story of an American family and reveals the secrets we keep and the promises we make to protect one another.

©2021 Nancy E. Johnson (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

Editor's Pick

You can always go home again
The opening of Nancy Johnson’s debut, The Kindest Lie, feels somewhat familiar. It’s election night 2008. The country is struggling in many of the same ways we are today, yet Barack Obama’s election helped usher in a sense of hope for better days to come. So as Ruth and Xavier host a watch party at their home on Chicago’s South Side, the giddiness and joy of the young Black couple is a feeling I remember very well. Living the quote-unquote American Dream, Ruth and her husband seem to have it all—except for a child of their own. Unknown to Xavier, Ruth gave birth when she was 17. Haunted by memories, Ruth travels home to Ganton, Indiana to search for the baby boy she left behind. Shayna Small’s moving performance renders Ruth’s story with care, as she explores what it means to be a mother and the surprising bond she forms with Midnight, an 11-year-old White boy who ultimately brings her closer to her son. Small creates lively and distinct voices for the entire cast, painting a vivid portrait of Ruth’s small midwestern town as she tries to make sense of her troubled past in order to protect the brighter future she so desperately craves. —[Margaret H., Audible Editor]

What listeners say about The Kindest Lie

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

a fantastic book club novel

“The Kindest Lie” would be an excellent book club read. In fact, right after reading it, I wanted to talk to someone about it. I had so many thoughts, opinions, and uneasy feelings after reading this. This is dubbed as a novel that examines racial inequity and lies told with good intentions. But I thought there was more. For me, racism stuck out clearly; racists are generally created by other racists. And racism is a defense tactic when one is unable to confront their own inadequacies. In addition, the idea that an adult has the right/justification for their emotional needs to be satisfied over the rights of a young child. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story begins with a successful black professional woman (Yale graduate) and her equally successful husband communicating about starting a family. Ruth is 29 and her husband Xavier is 32. He’s a PepsiCo marketing executive and she is an engineer for a packaging company. Ruth had a child out of wedlock when she was only 17, and a senior in high school. She was being raised by her grandparents after her mother left her and her brother as a result of a drug addiction. Her grandmother “forced” her to give up her baby so she could be on the upwardly mobile Yale track. With resiliency, Ruth was able to put that chapter behind her and begin her upwardly mobile, successful life. Ruth never told anyone, not even her husband Xavier about the baby. When she confesses that she’s conflicted about getting pregnant because she realizes she never emotionally processed her giving a child up for adoption, Xavier is shocked. Why didn’t she tell him this significant piece of her history? How could she just give up a baby?

This leads Ruth to returning to her hometown to see if she can find her baby, who would be 11 now. On her way home to her grandmother’s house, she stops at a childhood family friend’s store, where she meets an 11 year-old boy named Midnight. Midnight is an ironic name given to a very pale child. He explains it to her “It’s like when you name a fat person tiny. Well, I’m Midnight”. Midnight is a sweet, open, inquisitive boy. His best friend is a boy who is black, and his other friends are Latino. But Midnight doesn’t see “color” he only sees friends. This hometown is a rundown place where racism runs amuck. In fact the town is self-segregated with the blacks living in one area and the finer part of town is where the white people live. Of course, Midnight lives in the poor area. Which leads to Midnight’s home life. His mother died, and his father is an angry white man who blames all his problems on black people. His grandmother is NOT like that, but his father does have influence, and this leaves Midnight confused.

At any rate, Ruth gets herself involved in Midnight. He stirs her maternal feelings. And the reader figures out who Ruth’s biological son is pretty quick. But that’s not the point of the novel, it’s not finding out who her biological child is.

Midnight’s father is horrendous, in my opinion. It’s amazing that Midnight has kept his innocence, which is with the help of his grandmother. The father is working overtime providing Midnight with racists thoughts.

And Ruth, yes, she wants to determine who her “child” is. But does she have the right to barge into another family? The kid is happy and well grounded. Yes, her circumstances are sad, but the child, what is in his best interests?

Next, Ruth’s grandmother. Yes, she took the child from Ruth to give to an adoption place. How culpable is the grandmother who wanted her granddaughter to continue on her upward tract and not get sidelined by a baby? The grandmother will NOT tell Ruth where her baby went, although the reader predicts who he is very quickly. There are some unexpected twists in that department, but who the son is, is not a big surprise to the reader. How she finds out is an interesting process. Ruth also finds out what her grandparents sacrificed and did for her and her brother to get the best education and start in life. Ruth is shocked at some of the “secrets” that involve what was done for her best interests.

Midnight is a wonderful kid. Author Nancy Johnson writes the complexities and mixed messages that children hear with regard to race, and she uses Midnight to show how powerful those messages can be to innocent ears and eyes.

In addition, Johnson does a fantastic job with “the talk” that all families of color need to have with their children, especially boys, about being a black boy/kid in America. Sadly, police racism continues to run rampant in America.

This novel stirred many emotions in me. I was frustrated with Ruth and her self involved search for her baby. Saying that, I didn’t have a baby that I gave up, so I don’t really have the right to judge. Being of grandma age, I can understand some of what she did for the good of Ruth and her brother, but not all of it. Family is a complicated thing.

As I said at the beginning, this is a fantastic book club read. So many complexities and views that can be discussed!

I listened to the audio version, narrated by Shayna Small who is excellent!

25 people found this helpful

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Content is amazing....

The overall content of this story was amazing and it is a truly heartfelt story that needs to be told. My issue was with the writing. I would have liked to see some better word choice in places to help really pull you in. It is written like someone is speaking to you, but the writing isn't what is captivating as much as the content. Still a solid 4/5.

23 people found this helpful

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Slow Read

I wanted to like this book. It was a slow and boring read. I would not recommend.

16 people found this helpful

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must listen too book

its a love story of life with all of the beauty and pain. I loved the juxtaposing of a modern educated black women going back to her roots looking for answers to help her live her truth. expect to cry and laugh and cry again in relief as all characters find their safe space in this crazy world where BLMatters is such a needed battle cry for equality.

12 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Literary genius

Excellently written and masterfully performed. The characters are well developed and the story pertinent to our times. I hated to see it end!

11 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Great audiobook !

The Kindest Lie starts in Chicago on the night in 2008 when Obama was elected to be President.
Ruth and Xavier are a young, successful couple excited to see the first black man elected to be President. With all the hope for the future, Xavier wants to start a family. Little does he know, Ruth gave birth to a baby when she was 17 in 1997 that was immediately taken from her and put up for adoption. When Ruth comes clean about her secret, she realizes she wants to know what became of her baby. However, what will she risk to find him ?

There were so many layers to The Kindest Lie - it was a fabulous book club pick, so much to unpack. So much could be said about society and race and class and motherhood and how the circumstances people find themselves in can be so vast and varying. The teen pregnancy, giving a child up for adoption, the choices her grandmother made for Ruth, and her sort of stunted development in relationships afterward especially as relating to her husband Xavier. The complexity of the familial relationships—both Ruth’s and the others presented in the story--were so well written and developed. 
Something that stood out to me was the way that Nancy Johnson paired the friendship between Midnight and Corey, juxtaposing the two 11 year old boys.  Their characters tell two different stories of boyhood, one white and one Black, exemplifying the stark difference between the two. 

A fascinating listen with lots to ponder on !

9 people found this helpful

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Captivating. Personal and believable.

This story tells both sides of the adoption process, including everyone’s shining and not so stellar moments. The author doesn’t lecture or preach, just takes you along for the ride. The narrator has a very soothing voice.

7 people found this helpful

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It left you wanting more

Not worthy of a 4 star overall review. The story was atypical. The plot could be guessed with the exception of the twist at the end.

7 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Love it

But it took a while to really get good and interesting, I mean not until around chapters 17 or 18. Then I couldn’t put it down. An amazing story that’s so true about today. Also the narrator’s voice just added so much more.

6 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Best book of the last 3 years

Gripping all through. Definitely not chick lit. This author is conversant with pain endured during any life. She doesn’t shrink from it or cheaply use it. She created a damn good story and I’m grateful I came across it. As with any good literature, I will be smarter after listening to it. This book has my highest recommendation and I in eagerly await Ms. Johnson’s next book.

6 people found this helpful