by Diane Chamberlain
Published by: St. Martin
Genres: Historical Fiction
Bestselling author Diane Chamberlain delivers a breakout book about a small southern town fifty years ago, and the darkest—and most hopeful—places in the human heart. After losing her parents, fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart is left to care for her grandmother, older sister and nephew as tenants on a small tobacco farm. As she struggles with her grandmother’s aging, her sister’s mental illness and her own epilepsy, she realizes they might need more than she can give. When Jane Forrester takes a position as Grace County’s newest social worker, she doesn’t realize just how much her help is needed. She quickly becomes emotionally invested in her clients' lives, causing tension with her boss and her new husband. But as Jane is drawn in by the Hart women, she begins to discover the secrets of the small farm—secrets much darker than she would have guessed. Soon, she must decide whether to take drastic action to help them, or risk losing the battle against everything she believes is wrong. Set in rural Grace County, North Carolina in a time of state-mandated sterilizations and racial tension, Necessary Lies tells the story of these two young women, seemingly worlds apart, but both haunted by tragedy. Jane and Ivy are thrown together and must ask themselves: how can you know what you believe is right, when everyone is telling you it’s wrong?
Diane Chamberlain’s novel Necessary Lies, set in rural North Carolina, some fifty years ago, was a moving and beautiful tale capturing both the horror and beauty of this period. I knew going into this book, that it was going to be heartbreaking but what I didn’t expect was to fall in love with these characters and hold them so close to my heart. This is a poignant tale of one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by a governing body in the name of humanity. Three word reviewing: gripping, beautiful and heartbreaking.
While the tale Chamberlain shares with us is fictional, I think it’s important to note that what occurs actually took place all over the United States, but primarily occurred in southern states from 1929 to 1974. If you are unfamiliar with the Eugenics program I urge you to read one of these sites: Huffington Post, Salon, and Wikipedia.
Jane Forrester is a forwarding thinking young woman of twenty-two who is about to wed to a young pediatrician and breaks the norm by becoming one of Grace County, NC’s newest social workers. Jane cares deeply about her clients, especially the Hart family, and struggles with the requirements of the job and her conscience. We meet Mary Beth, and her developmentally slow son William they live with Nonnie her grandmother; a diabetic who is selfish and struggles to raise her son’s children. Then we have fifteen year old Ivy Hart who takes care of them all and longs for a life far-far away. Chamberlain weaves these women into our hearts as she skillfully reveals the tone, and actions of this period. From racial tension, to the state-mandated sterilization, I became completely lost within the pages.
Jane Forrester was refreshing, opinionated and not afraid to speak her voice. She is a young wife, struggling to please her husband while pursuing a passion to help those less fortunate. Ivy Hart, stole a little piece of my heart, as did her sister Mary Beth. Two young, barely educated young woman, who work the tobacco farms in exchange for their shack and twenty-five cents a day. Nonnie, their grandmother and guardian is elderly, a diabetic with a sweet tooth, and someone who willingly works the system in order to survive. Through her characters Chamberlain showed us the many facets and opinions of the period, from Jane’s husband to the owner of the tobacco farm, we get a strong sense of the people, politics, and racial tensions. I became emotional invested in these characters, and the injustices making the tale very real for me.
In Necessary Lies, Chamberlain slowly reveals all sides of the Eugenics program, exposing some of the flaws, and opposing sides. It is brutally hard to imagine someone performing these procedures without the patience consent and denying others who desperately wanted it based on criteria such as financial independence, and education all in the name of bettering society. *shivers* The Hart’s are a poor white family and their circumstances reflect those of many in the rural south during this period. The author did a wonderful job of bringing these characters to life and the tale moved me. Jane Forrester is such a brave character who fights the system and is soundly rejected by her peers. While the events that occurred were not new to me, Chamberlain based her tale on historical facts and carefully laid out all sides. This is a must read for anyone interesting in social issues, and a story that needs to shared. The tale unfolds in alternating POVs that change with each chapter giving us a first person perspective of Ivy and Jane. I love when an author fleshes out her characters like this and makes them real. The tale tugged at my heartstrings as it sent me on an emotional roller-coaster ride from anger, resentment and ultimately to tears. It is a story that will stay with me and one that touched my soul both as a mother and a human being.
I would love to see everyone read Necessary Lies and think Chamberlain captured this social injustice through unforgettable characters.
Five cups of coffee out of five
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