Welcome to a weekly post, Throwback Thursday. This weekly book review post is a way to share some old favourites, books that were published over a year ago and most importantly those books that have been languishing on the to be read pile for far too long!
North Carolina, 1960. Newlywed Jane Forrester, fresh out of university, has sought what most other women have shunned: a career. But life as a social worker is far from what she expected. Out amongst the rural Tobacco fields of Grace County, Jane encounters a world of extreme poverty that is far removed from the middle-class life she has grown up with. But worse is still to come. Working with the Hart family and their fifteen-year-old daughter Ivy, it’s not long before Jane uncovers a shocking secret, and is thrust into a moral dilemma that puts her career on the line, threatens to dissolve her marriage, and ultimately, determines the fate of Ivy and her family forever. Soon Jane is forced to take drastic action, and before long, there is no turning back.
Diane Chamberlain is quite the crusader in terms of social justice. Necessary Lies, a novel published in 2013, brings to light an area of history I’m sure the US would like to forget. From 1929 to 1975, as many as 7,000 citizens were subjected to a eugenics program in the southern state of North Carolina. This program sterilized those due to their race, social status or state of health. Chamberlain’s novel takes a truthful and insightful look at the experiences of two young women, from contrasting class backgrounds, who find themselves at the centre of this program.
Diane Chamberlain takes the reader back to the year 1960, in the US state of North Carolina. Necessary Lies brings together the lives of two very different women living in this time. Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester are as different as they come. Ivy is a sprightly fifteen year old child, who lives in poverty on a tobacco plantation. Ivy’s charge is her grandmother, after her parents die. Ivy, an epileptic herself, cares for her mentally ill sister, elderly grandmother and toddler aged nephew. Life is a struggle for Ivy Hart. Jane Forrester comes into Ivy’s life as a social worker, who comes to check up on Ivy’s family and give them much needed small donations to help them muddle through. Fresh on the social worker circuit, Jane is keen to bring about change for those in her care, but she places her new career and reputation in jeopardy when she makes a huge decision impacting the Hart family. As the tragedy plays out, it has long lasting ramifications for these two women and their families.
Late last year I discovered the work of the very talented and bestselling author Diane Chamberlain, when I reviewed her latest release, The Stolen Marriage. There was something about Chamberlain’s writing that struck a chord with me last year and since then, I vowed to make an effort to catch up on her very extensive back list. Necessary Lies is the result of my efforts to work my way through Chamberlain’s book list.
The most striking aspect and perhaps heartbreaking realisation is that Necessary Lies is based on fact. Diane Chamberlain has taken great steps to pen a novel that is grounded in fact. Her level and dedication to her research is remarkable. I will readily admit to having not an ounce of prior knowledge on this frightening piece of history from our not so distant past. It astounds me that this program went on for as long as it did. Chamberlain works hard to give a voice to those who were a victim of this regime.
Diane Chamberlain explains in the author notes at the end of her book that she was once in another life, a social worker. She applies this social worker lens to the events she portrays in Necessary Lies. She works to highlight issues of class, race, poverty, gender and mental illness, which were rife at this point in America’s past, but I also feel these themes have weight today.
The characterisation is this novel is top notch. Chamberlain devotes a fair section in the early parts of this novel to allowing her readers to really get to know her characters. Plenty of time is devoted to giving us an insight into the very different backgrounds of our leads. It is easy to develop a sense of empathy and affection for Ivy. I felt her plight deeply. Her family are also a product of their circumstances and any reader will be hard pressed not to feel sorry for them. Likewise, the fellow community members of Grace County quickly earn your sympathy with their varying plights.
Chamberlain’s other leading character is Jane. I really enjoyed Jane journey. I admired that this newlywed went against the expectations of her class and her husband in particular, to forge ahead with her aspirations to help those in need. Jane gets a lot more than she bargained for in her new line of work. There are plenty of unexpected situations and heartbreaking decisions Jane is forced to confront. Her loyalty to Ivy is what makes the novel something special indeed.
Necessary Lies is a well written piece of truly heart wrenching fiction that blows the cover on the state mandated sterilisation program that existed for decades in the US. This is a story that should and needs to be told, in order that the forgotten victims of this program are given recognition. Fans of issue based fiction novels, will find much semblance in this moving novel.
Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain was published in 2013 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Necessary Lies, Diane Chamberlain, visit here.