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Necessary Lies

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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?

343 pages, Hardcover

First published September 3, 2013

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About the author

Diane Chamberlain

61 books13.2k followers
Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and (London) Sunday Times best-selling author of 28 novels. The daughter of a school principal who supplied her with a new book almost daily, Diane quickly learned the emotional power of story. Although she wrote many small “books” as a child, she didn’t seriously turn to writing fiction until her early thirties when she was waiting for a delayed doctor’s appointment with nothing more than a pad, a pen, and an idea. She was instantly hooked.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia. She received her master’s degree in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, she was a hospital social worker in both San Diego and Washington, D.C, and a psychotherapist in private practice in Alexandria, Virginia, working primarily with adolescents.

More than two decades ago, Diane was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which changed the way she works: She wrote two novels using voice recognition software before new medication allowed her to get back to typing. She feels fortunate that her arthritis is not more severe and that she’s able to enjoy everyday activities as well as keep up with a busy travel schedule.

Diane lives in North Carolina with her significant other, photographer John Pagliuca, and their odd but lovable Shetland Sheepdog, Cole

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,843 reviews
Profile Image for Deanna .
691 reviews12.5k followers
July 25, 2017
Diane Chamberlain has been a favorite of mine for some time but I think it may have been this book that pushed her towards the top of my list. I just love the way she tells a story with her writing.

Before I read this, I had no real knowledge of the Eugenics Program. I vaguely remember reading a magazine article years ago but that was pretty much the extent of what I knew.

One definition of Eugenics:

"the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics)"

I'm going to try to keep this short. Many have already read this book but for those who haven't I don't want to spoil anything.

The book takes place in 1960. Fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart lives with her grandmother, her sister and her nephew on a small tobacco farm in rural Grace County, North Carolina. Her parents have passed away and she is struggling to take care of her family. With her sister's mental illness, her grandmother's aging, and her own medical condition of epilepsy she is having a hard time keeping it all together.

Social worker Jane Forrester is new to Grace County and is just beginning to realize how much help is needed. Jane quickly finds out how hard it is for her to remain detached and not become emotionally invested in her client's lives.

She finds it hard to shut off and leave her work behind when she goes home to her new husband. Jane's boss frequently reprimands her for becoming what she feels is overly involved with her clients. But Jane can't ignore the secrets she's learning about the Hart family. Decisions need to be made but how can she be certain she will make the right choice?

"How can you know what you believe is right, when everyone is telling you it's wrong?"

This was such an emotional read for me but I'm still glad I read it. From the very first chapter I was pulled into the lives of all of the characters. You can't help but root for all of them. This book had me thinking about all of my own opinions on many different subjects. Subjects like poverty, social work, mental illness, welfare, and especially sterilization.

The book flows so well and is told in alternating first person perspectives, between Ivy and Jane. You can tell Diane Chamberlain has done her research and although the characters are fictional, the fact that they are based on true cases is chilling.

In my opinion this is a must-read! A truly compelling story that I know I won't forget.
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,200 reviews3,048 followers
September 6, 2021
Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain (Author), Alison Elliott (Narrator)

There is so much I like about this story, the fact that I learned about the Eugenics Sterilization Program and the part it played in our history, the Gardiner family, and the Hart family (as unlikeable as the grandmother was, I could see how her life pressures were too much for her). But the character of self righteous, hypocritical Jane upset me so much. I slept on my thoughts to see if they would mellow towards Jane but they just became stronger towards the wrongness of some of her actions.

Fresh from college and newly married, Jane Forrester becomes Grace County’s newest social worker. Immediately, Jane becomes emotionally involved with the Hart family, made up of a sick grandmother who's intelligence is "marginal", a seventeen year old mentally ill girl who has already had a baby with learning difficulties, and fifteen year old, Ivy, whose IQ test shows her to be of low normal intelligence. But it's clear that Ivy's smarter than her IQ test indicates because she's the one that the entire household depends on to bring in the wages from her tobacco job while also trying to get her grandmother to tend to her health needs, while also trying to keep her little nephew from all the dangers that can befall a child that doesn't have someone watching over him properly. Ivy can only do so much and her grandmother and sister aren't up to taking care of a baby full time.

Because Ivy's family is so poor and Ivy has a mild form of epilepsy and no viable support in her family other than herself, she is targeted for sterilization by North Carolina's state-mandated sterilization program. Jane appears on the scene at a time when the agency that hired her is extremely short of workers and can't even train her properly. Never fear, Jane, not one for rules or full disclosure to her fiancé turned husband, is going to take things into her own hands. While I admire that she saves one person from a very undesirable fate, her bullheadedness means disaster for another person. I just could not warm up to Jane's hypocritical, naïve nature. Never has a woman been so ill-suited for a job or the husband she married. I had wanted to read this story for a long time and I'm glad I read it and learned about eugenics, something I knew nothing about when it comes to the US, but I do wish Jane had an inkling of common sense.

At the end of the audiobook there is an interesting interview with Diane Chamberlain about her research for writing this book.

Published September 3rd 2014 by Macmillan Audio
Profile Image for Bibi.
1,288 reviews3,230 followers
April 20, 2022
*5+ stars*

So good.....so good. This story held my heart.

Set in the final years of Jim Crow and based on a true story, Necessary Lies is a story that everyone needs to read.

A reminder of how far we've come and how much further we still need to go with regards to discrimination & prejudice; with Chamberlain providing stark illustrations of how humanity degrades those who- unwittingly- are born to a specific race or gender. Likewise, our disdain for those living with a mental or physical disability.

Chamberlain writes with clarity and brilliance. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Tina.
541 reviews923 followers
March 4, 2018
If you can believe it....I found this book on the Bargain rack of my local bookstore! I immediately recognized it as a book I had been wanting to read plus I just adore Diane Chamberlain's books.

This was a complete winner and fully fledged 5 star read! I was engrossed from the first page to the last. The story of two sisters living in poverty in rural North Carolina in 1960 and the social worker who comes to their aide. It's a heartbreaking and distressing story and I certainly shed some tears especially near the end. I enjoyed the ending very much. It was perfect.

Highly recommend this book.
September 5, 2021
4 ½ stars rounded up to 5 *

INCREDIBLE, this author keeps surprising me!! I have read Ms. Chamberlain’s most recent novels including “Dream Daughter” and “The Last House On The Street” and LOVED THEM. What I really enjoyed is that each book was very different in premise, characterization and writing style.

I wanted more from this author and I was able to get Necessary Lies.This novel was published in 2013 and somehow I missed it. Once again I am so impressed with how unique this book is.

GREAT HISTORICAL FICTION for me has to be factual but also a story built around characters that I can care about. I learned so much from this novel.

It is 1960 in the rural south, and I met people in this book that I am still thinking about.

Ivy Hart lives on a tobacco farm in North Carolina with her grandmother, older sister and her baby. Ivy is the only one who is the responsible one!! She knows that she is smart and wants to stay in school with dreams of college.

Jane Forrester is recently married to a local well respected doctor. She has always dreamed of a career and has just taken her first job as a social worker. She really wants to help people and she becomes entangled in Ivy’s family’s life with some very unexpected results.

We learn about the poor that worked those tobacco farms, being allowed to live in a house as long as they worked the farm, from dawn to dusk! The tenants had just enough money to have something to eat and a place, though crowded, to sleep.

The PULSE BEHIND THIS NOVEL was the Eugenics program. During this time and for decades before, women and even a girl as young as 14 could be legally sterilized. All that was needed was the word of the husband, employer, social worker and/or doctor and the young women were sterilized without their consent. They were told they had had an appendectomy and many never learned the truth!!

It is only through reading so many novels that I had ever heard about this program. Another dark part of our past! A time when women and people of color had little voice and if you were poor, well that just made everything just a lot harder for you!

If you want to read more I can recommend this link:

A great audiobook from my local library :)
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
352 reviews403 followers
April 11, 2015
This novel exceeded my already high expectations, and is historical fiction at it's best. I'm always drawn to America's dirty little secrets, and here we have N. Carolina's eugenics program in the 1960's. Chamberlain does an excellent job focusing in on one specific family and the impact this program has on their lives.

The main character, Jane, follows her heart to become a social worker against her husbands wishes (and later demands) to be a housewife and baby maker. She soon learns that this job requires more than just providing help to needy families. The state of N. Carolina (the only state to do so) has put the power in the social worker's hands to decide whether certain so-called feeble-minded or poverty stricken women should be sterilized (and yes, even if women are raped, or forced out of necessity, it is most always women). Jane becomes passionately involved with one particular family who's lives are already deeply embedded in this program before she officially takes on their case. She becomes the only hope for this family, and once again her own beliefs are at odds with those of her society and employer.

Chamberlain shows through story, not only the horrors of our recent past, but also the hope we have when we choose to treat others fairly and equally. I loved the link provided in the "author's note." It shows recent hearings in N. Carolina to determine compensation for survivors. To see and hear actual survivors recount their stories is something I will never forget.

Profile Image for Liz.
2,146 reviews2,765 followers
June 16, 2018

I was lucky enough to be a teenager in the 70s, not the early 60s. So the availability of things like birth control wasn’t an issue. Reading the beginning of this book and being reminded how little rights women had over their own bodies just 50 years ago got me totally riled up.

But do all women have the right to have children? Or to keep those children? I’m not of the opinion that the answer is yes. The book works well when Jane is grappling with the slippery slope of whom to sterilize or when to remove a child. Or when Jane struggles with whether the truth should be told. Because Jane is so young and inexperienced, she inevitably makes mistakes.

The problem with the book is that most of the other characters are cliches. The husband is a know it all doctor, convinced he knows what’s best not only for Jane’s clients but for Jane. And the rest of the social workers all think they know what’s best for their clients. I felt the book would have worked better with more grey and less black and white. I find it hard to imagine that all social workers had such an easy time with these decisions. One thing that Chamberlain does right is not paint this as a race issue, but more as a poverty issue.

The author’s note is an important part of the book. Unlike other states, North Carolina was the only one to use the program outside of institutions. The facts that Chamberlain presents are chilling.

I’m reading this for my book club and it's going to make for a lively discussion.

I had not read any of Diane Chamberlain’s other books, but will make a point to seek them out. This book will appeal to those that like Jodi Picoult.

Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews667 followers
December 24, 2016

What impresses me most about this novel is the writer's ability to not play the overly dramatic tone in what is a pretty dramatic story. While healthy outrage ensured that steam poured from my own ears, Diane Chamberlain's manner and tone remained grounded and matter of fact throughout. Chamberlain acknowledges that while the characters of this novel are fictional, they are, incredibly, based on real cases; cases which were the norm in 1960 North Carolina. Knowing this will send chills through you as you read the novel. Chamberlain's Acknowledgement's are well worth reading.

Summarised from Wikipedia: Eugenics was a social philosophy advocating the improvement of human genetic traits through the promotion of higher reproduction of people with desired traits (positive eugenics), and reduced reproduction of people with less-desired or undesired traits (negative eugenics). It has its roots in the 1800s in Great Britain, France, Germany and USA.

The Eugenics Program, practiced from 1929 until 1974 in North Carolina, was sealed information until 1996 after which date, the data was accessed by a Dr Johanna Schoen. Dr Schoen compiled the articles entitled Against their Will in the Winston-Salem Journal and of course the game was up for the North Carolina government. The program targeted the “mentally defective” and the “feeble-minded” (people with a below 80 IQ score), inmates of mental institutions, epileptics and those who sterilization was considered a benefit to the public. (Of all of the types targeted, epileptics is one I probably have most issue with.) Ivy Hart is an epileptic, she is also apparently “feeble-minded”, she is dirt poor, socially disadvantaged, on welfare; she fits all the criteria.

The bare bones of the story only because I believe you really should read the book:

Ivy is just 15, she and her boyfriend want to marry and she wants to go to college. She's already been earmarked sterilization by her previous social worker, Charlotte. Ivy lives with her diabetic grandmother, her ethereally beautiful sister Mary Ella who's 17, classed as an imbecile and Mary Ella's son, Baby William who's not achieving normal milestones and authorities suspect is retarded. Luckily for Ivy, her case has been taken over by Jane Forrester, 22, a just-graduated case worker, newly married and already bucking the system at home by taking the Pill behind her husband Robert's back. Jane will break all the rules in her management of Ivy's case ultimately risking her job and her marriage.

You cringe and shudder for Ivy's lot in life and you will shout “Go, Jane” as she battles the system to save Ivy. Towards the end, I admit to thinking out loud, very loudly, okay I probably nearly shouted: “Come on, Jane, do something.” and “Oh My God” several times. Read this novel if only because it's based on fact and almost too awful to comprehend. Most highly recommended 5★

And if you think that people with mental health disabilities are not sterilized today via guardianship request and court order, then think again... In real life, the issue is raised time and again but sadly you must concede that while these people's brains do not have the capacity of a normal person, biologically their bodies are normal i.e. they have the same urges we all do. What to do? And where do we draw the line? With an Aunt who is a Mental Health Advocate, I've heard both sides of the story but I remain undecided as to the ethics of sterilization.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews609 followers
January 13, 2021
Update: $1.99 Kindle download...
if you’ve never read this book...I recommend it highly.
It’s certainly a great price today.

5++++ STARS!!!

This novel stands out among many others!
An important story! A clear vision of what it might have felt like to live in 'this country' during a time when people were called 'feebleminded', and morons....and unwanted sterilization was mandated. --Social workers had the power to petition for the sterilization of individuals.
My emotions were on fire page after page --I wanted to fight for the victims!

The Eugenics Sterilization Program was 'real' in our country. Most states stopped performing state-mandated sterilizations after World War 11.
North Carolina increased its sterilization after the war.

The story Diane Chamberlain writes feels real- raw - authentic tender: a story 'whose-time-has-come' to be told!!!! -- Its a novel you can't shake after its over!

"Necessary Lies" is 'necessary' to read!

DO NOT let the 'cover' of the book --'fool' you into thinking ----"how, sweet, a story of two sweet white girls playing in the field". This book is for men and woman!!!!
Profile Image for PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps .
2,340 reviews227 followers
August 28, 2013
Can I give NECESSARY LIES more than 5 stars? I recommend reading Diane Chamberlain's short story THE FIRST LIE as an introduction to the book, but it's not essential.
The year is 1960. The place, rural North Carolina. Jane is a 22 year old newlywed, beginning her first job as a social worker. One of her more intriguing cases is the Hart family. The ailing grandmother Nonnie, her seventeen-year-old intellectually disabled daughter Mary Ella mother to two-year-old Baby William, and fifteen-year-old Ivy. Mary Ella was involuntarily sterilized after her son's birth, part of a statewide eugenics program. Ivy's former social worker wants her sterilized too, which takes Jane on an ethical odyssey. If everyone thinks Ivy should be sterilized, could they all be wrong she she right?
I was hooked from the short-story, and thrilled to get an ARC copy in advance of publication. Diane Chamberlain is one of the rare authors who produces books every year that get better and better. Her characters become more complex, the voice of the narrative stronger, the plot more detailed. Chamberlain brings us smack in the middle of 1960, not writing from the twenty-first century, but we're transported to the mind set if people in the rural south, where racism and sexism abound as part of the character of the times. Jane was not meant to be a subservient wife, but her assertiveness isn't 2013 assertiveness, it's 1960s. A lesser writer wouldn't have written in such a nuanced manner. Think Mad Men mentality as a backdrop for marriages, yet no part of the book is stereotyped.
I'm going to reread this book, once I get some sleep, and I know the story--and Jane and Ivy will stay with me for a long, long time. Maybe forever.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
September 29, 2013
I don't know why it has taken me so long to discover the wonderfully talented writer, Diane Chamberlain . But I am thrilled I have been introduced to her writing by a Gooodreads friend , who gave this book a glowing review .
The story of two welfare families working so hard and doing what ever it takes to provide bare minimum food and shelter for themselves & their families is heartbreaking . But at the point in the story where we learn of the Eugenics Sterilization Program and the impact on these characters , it becomes a gut wrenching realization that this practice actually took place in this country .
There are some pretty amazing characters in this book , all heroines in their own way : Mary Ellawho gives of herself to save her family , Ivy who sacrifices so much to escape a horrible fate , and Jane , the social worker whose courage is indisputable . Five stars , at least ! I will, for sure be reading more of Diane Chamberlain's books . Thanks , TamElaine !
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,325 followers
February 7, 2017
4.5 stars! This book pulled me right in - Diane Chamberlain is such a fantastic author! I loved the characters and was completely absorbed in the storyline from page 1.

Based on real life events, this is the first I have heard of the Eugenics Sterilization Program which sterilized over 7,000 citizens in North Carolina between 1929 and 1975. Reasons for sterilization ranged from "feeble mindedness" to epilepsy to promiscuity of individuals living on welfare (to avoid welfare having to pay once future babies were born). The government viewed the sterilization process as "for the public good". As in this book, many of those sterilized were minors who had the permanent operation without being made aware of what was happening. I just can't wrap my mind around the justification of sterilizing a 15 year old which is what happened in this book. How inhumane and devastating! How was this legal???

Still now, after having finished the book and slept on it, I cannot get these characters out of my head. Throughout this book, I was googling to learn more and uncover facts about this sad part of history. These are good indicators of a great book! I enjoy learning new things while reading and that was definitely the case with this book. I highly recommend this book to any reader who enjoys women's fiction and/or anyone who wants to learn more about the Eugenics Sterilization Program.
Profile Image for Margitte.
1,178 reviews532 followers
May 13, 2015
This is the story of Jane, Ivy and Mary of Grace County, North Carolina.

Sadly, it is also about the dire policies and consequences of eugenics on unsuspecting victims.

The Hart family, (consisting of grandmother Nonnie and her two granddaughters, the two sisters Mary Ella and Ivy), was, according to Margaret Sanger (a eugenics advocate) those good-for-nothing people who were fostered at the expense of good human beings. They were those genetic elements, who contributed to a nation of imbeciles, by out-breeding the superior people and becoming this dead weight of human waste.

Theodore Roosevelt said that "Society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind." Luther Burbank: "Stop permitting criminals and weaklings to reproduce." George Bernard Shaw said that "only eugenics could save mankind".

It is the core doctrine behind this story in which poor people were destined for sterilization through the petitions of social workers, particularly in North Carolina. The program was called the Eugenics Sterilization Program. For almost fifty years, the research, legislation, and molding of public opinion surrounding eugenics, would be supported by international respected universities, research laboratories, prominent politicians and celebrities. In America, it was funded by the Carnegie Foundation, and later by the Rockefeller Foundation. These efforts had the support of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the National Research Council. California would become the state who sterilized the most people in the USA.

The best human beings were not breeding as rapidly as the inferior ones--the foreigners, immigrants, Jews, blacks, degenerates, the unfit, and the "feeble minded."

Michael Crichton, in his book State of Fear states further: "Feeble-mindedness" could mean anything from poverty and illiteracy to epilepsy. Similarly, there was no clear definition of "degenerate" or "unfit." Second, the eugenics movement was really a social program masquerading as a scientific one."

Professor Alston Chase said, "when the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power."

The Hart family of North Carolina had their side of the story to tell, and this is it.

They were living on a tobacco farm, it was the 1960s, and race relations was still ...well ... race relations. A new social worker is appointed to take care of this family.

A young, newly-married, privileged young woman, Jane Forrester, with idealism and dreams in her eyes to improve the world, defy the social mores of her golf-set, country-club-sub-race of perfection, to do her work, instead of starting with a family immediately as her husband, a doctor, demanded. She even acquired 'The Pill' without his knowledge.

Jane Forrester was a girl of the new era. Independent, stubborn, bright and liberated. However, within three months of getting involved with her clients and discovering the secrets and lies behind their circumstances, she would turn her own life, as well as theirs, upside down. She had to watch people getting killed as a result. She also had to deal with her own history of unresolved heartache derived from a fatal accident in which her sister and father died a few years earlier. Her marriage was in serious trouble. Her humanitarian approach to her work left her with animosity and prejudice against her by her work colleagues, who demanded that the state policy be carried out.

The musical language of the American south carries this story of the Hart family and the woman who would destroy everything they ever knew. For some, Mrs. Jane Forrester was a heroine, but for others she was the enemy. She was threat and salvation. She was love and hate.

Baby William was the epicenter of the family's lives.
Ivy: "I could hear Baby William howling. He was going at it good and Nonnie was hollerin’ at him to shut it, so I started running before she could get to the point of hitting him. For all I knew she’d been hitting him all afternoon. Nonnie wasn’t all that mean, but when her rheumatism made her hands hot and red, her fuse was right short. She said she raised our daddy, then me and Mary Ella, and she thought she was done with the raising. Then all of a sudden, Baby William came along."
It is the beauty of the language in the book, that conquered my soul completely. Well, I have been a devoted fan of southern prose for a very long time now. This story just confirmed why.

Necessary Lies is a deeply human, complicated, highly dramatic, multi-leveled tale in which nature and nurture take center stage and holler against the criminal actions of a pseudo science. Millions of people all over the world died as a result of it. But this story celebrates the lives of some of those who fought against it and won.

Necessary Lies is also an excellent tribute to American southern literature. It left me sitting speechless for several hours after closing the book.


Profile Image for Carol.
1,370 reviews2,157 followers
April 12, 2015
Set in 1960's rural North Carolina, a shocking, but enlightening story surrounding the Eugenic's Sterilization Program, their unethical practices and the abuse of State authority. I was totally unfamiliar with the program thus surprised and disgusted with the procedures yet was totally enthralled by the author's presentation and well-developed characters.

Another page-turning winner for Diane Chamberlain!

Profile Image for Norma.
551 reviews12.7k followers
October 17, 2016
I really enjoy Diane Chamberlain books. This is my third read by this author. I love her writing style and how she puts all the characters together in a beautifully told story. I like it when I can understand what an author is trying to portray. There was a couple of characters that I wasn't too happy with while reading but the end result is what I wanted to see happen. Great story and a highly recommended must read.
Profile Image for Laysee.
519 reviews250 followers
May 18, 2018
Set amidst the tobacco fields in North Carolina in the 1960s, Necessary Lies is an engaging story that pits the passion of an inexperienced social worker against the rules and conventions of the Department of Public Welfare. It documents the hardscrabble life of the Harts and Jordans, two families whose children labor in the tobacco fields in exchange for a roof over their heads.

Necessary Lies may not be great literary fiction but it is grounded in historical fact about the Eugenics Program in the U.S. from 1929 to 1975. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea that women (and men) on welfare in the 1950s were targeted for mandatory sterilization ‘for the public good’ if the state had reason to believe they were ‘mentally defective’ or ‘feeble-minded’, or epileptic. Oh, the horror of it all! The story centers on Mrs. Jane Forrester, newly married to a chauvinistic pediatrician who despises her dream job as a welfare worker, and her struggles to serve her clients’ best interests.

Jane’s greatest concern is Ivy Hart, a 15-year-old white girl who has epilepsy. Ivy supports a disease-ridden grandmother, her attractive 17-year-old sister (Mary Ella) who is intellectually impaired and attracts predatory males, and her developmentally delayed 2-year-old nephew. Ivy has a lover close to her age, with whom she dreams of raising a family in California. Alas, the Department of Public Welfare deems her behaviorally and morally at-risk and, like Mary Ella, a candidate for the Eugenics Program. Is it not ‘an act of kindness’ to save the poor and unfit from being a burden to themselves, their families and the state?

Structurally, the novel takes the form of alternating narratives mostly that of Ivy and Jane. Chamberlain takes the reader deep into their day-to-day concerns, hopes, and fears. I found myself rooting for Ivy and hoping she will get the support she needs to care for her family and that she can escape the poverty trap and the fate of being an epileptic. With Jane, it soon becomes clear that her intense involvement with her clients is jeopardizing not just her marriage but also her job. The novel also captures quite vividly the racial tension in Grace County. Ivy learns quite early that ‘Colored and white didn’t mix in public. Especially not colored boys and white girls...We could be friends at home, but out in the world, we didn’t know each other.’ The colored youth (the Jordan boys) are portrayed as longsuffering, quiet, but reliable souls. It is impossible not to care about the characters in this novel.

The novel begins and ends in 2011. The chapters in between (starting in 1960) follow the trajectory of the Eugenics Program as it impinges on the lives of Mary Ella, Mrs. Lita Jordan, and Ivy Hart. It exacts a high price on Jane who desires above all else to do what is right. I love how this story begins and ends.

Necessary Lies raises some difficult questions. How should a welfare worker maintain objectivity and professional distance while building rapport and good will? On what basis do mental health professionals decide what is in their client’s best interest? How do we protect the rights of clients who are minors, especially when their caregivers are uninformed and clueless? Do feeble-minded people have rights as much as normal people? Is honesty always the best policy?

Much as I cheer Jane Forrester for going beyond the call of duty for her young charges, I am uncomfortable with her crossing her professional boundaries and breaching client confidentiality on several occasions. Jane certainly walks a tight rope between care that is beneficial and care that becomes maleficent.

As the title of this novel suggests, Necessary Lies is at its core a story about the functional role of deception. On the flip side, it is about the costs of telling the truth. This novel leaves me thinking that honesty is not always the best policy even when the truth is spoken in love. When the truth is beyond the capacity of its recipient to understand and come to terms with it, as in the case of Mary Ella, the truth cannot set one free.

Read Necessary Lies. It is a highly readable story that shares a startling slice of history and offers plenteous food for thought.
Profile Image for Taury.
556 reviews126 followers
December 12, 2022
The material of the book and the subject, involuntary sterilization of those that were considered feeble minded, poverty, having a disease, or lessor than if under the age of consent signed by a parent or guardian. Was a nice break from WW2, slavery and other such subjects. My issue is the timeline chose, 1940s and the wY things were phrased and advanced for that time line. It was a struggle and often confusing when trying to figure out if events could have actually existed. Author did a poor job of researching the decade she chose to place the subject matter in. That is a real frustration for me.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
February 19, 2014
3.5 I am appalled that with the large amount of books I have read, I had never heard of this eugenic program before. A white family of sharecroppers on a tobacco farm in the south, and a newly married social worker are the two threads in this story.
The thread with the sharecroppers was my favorite, the parts with Jane sometimes came off a bit awkward. The book, nevertheless, hooked me from the very beginning. All the secrets kept and waiting to be revealed on this farm, Jane and her pediatric husband who does not want her to work, made the book flow quickly.
It was a time when successful men felt insulted when their wives wanted to work and the way Jane's job was viewed by her husband and his friends was also very interesting.

Many of the woman entered into the eugenics program were not even told what was being done to them and I felt indignant and angry on their behalf. In essence betrayed by the people and the agencies that were supposed to help them. Of course, anything to do with the mistreatment of children is very hard to read, and a child being pulled away from its mother is a horrible vision.

This was a fast paced story and one that needed to be told.
Profile Image for Mo.
1,363 reviews2 followers
June 26, 2017
It's hard to believe the happenings in this book took place in my lifetime. Granted it is a work of fiction but it is based on real-life happenings in the 1960s.

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?

"Politics and religion ... the two things we don't talk about in public."

Jane, the social worker was young and probably a bit naïve. Her husband was a self-righteous prig. Did not like him at all.

"Are we going to make it?" I asked quietly.
"Not if you insist on putting the needs of other people ahead of your husband."

From 1929 to 1975, North Carolina serialised over seven thousand of its citizens ...

I have read this author before and her stories can be quite intense.

I was kind of left hanging with one aspect when I finished. I must message someone to see if I missed something along the way.

Quite a shocking story, honestly. As I said, it is based on factual events although the characters are fictional. And it is horrifying to realise that this was going on up to as late as 1975.

Profile Image for Carol Brill.
Author 3 books157 followers
April 29, 2016
For me, the strength in this book, even more than the story, is how well Diane Chamberlain captured the sense of place and time. The story opens and closes in 2011, but most of the story takes place in 1960. Diane Chamberlain chillingly captures the time when women must ask their husband's permission to have a job or take birth control--a time when Eugenics, the practice of sterilizing the "feeble-minded" aka known as poor, uneducated who couldn't score well on white-biased IQ testgs was far too easy.
The 1960's story is told from two points of view. Ivy is a 15 year old poor, white teen living on a tobacco farm with her grandmother, Nonnie, sister, Mary Ella and illegitimate 2 year-old nephew, Baby William. It's unclear who fathered, Baby William, although there are hints that eventually prove true.
Ivy and her "employers" teenage son, John Henry are secretly in love--a love they must hide due to their difference in class.

The other POV is Jane Forrester, the 22 year old newly married social worker whose husband resents her desire to work. This is Jane's first social work job and she is newly assigned to help the needy families in the area where Ivy lives. Jane quickly becomes emotionally connected to her clients--"caring too much" in the view of her boss and colleagues.
Ultimately this is a story of abused power, trust and love in many forms, and how the determination of one person to risk righting a wrong can prevail.
Profile Image for Sharon.
1,054 reviews196 followers
January 31, 2014
Jane Forrester has recently just married her husband Robert, who is a pediatrician. Jane is desperate to have a career before starting a family of her own. Her husband doesn't approve of her working and doesn't understand why she feels the need to work.

Jane decides to take a job as a social worker and one of her first cases is the Hart family. Ivy is fifteen years old and lives with her ailing grandmother Nonnie, her elder sister Mary Ella and her baby William. Together they all live on a tobacco farm in North Carolina in a very small house. Although Ivy is the youngest she is the one who caries a huge responsibility when it comes to looking after the rest of the family. Mary Ella is far to feeble minded and Nonnie doesn't have the best of health. Ivy does the best she can, but their circumstances are far from good as they live in extreme poverty. Ivy also has a boyfriend Henry Allen, who she sneaks out at night to be with and whilst they are together they share their dreams of what they want for for their futures.

At first Jane is not aware of just how much help the Hart family really need. Jane quickly becomes emotionally involved with the family which causes tension with her boss as well as her husband. Soon Jane discovers a secret within the family and now she is faced with the dilemma as to what to do. Will Jane take drastic actions to help them or will she do what is required as part of her job which will have a devastating outcome for the Hart family.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was a very powerful read. This story deals with issues about the eugenics sterilisation program which took place in the 1960's and this practice was horrific and barbaric. From start to finish I was drawn into the storyline, but also the characters. At times I found this story to be emotional, compelling and gut wrenching. Another fabulous read by Diane Chamberlain which I highly recommend.
November 28, 2016
My TBR shelf has grown since I have discovered Diane Chamberlain thanks to my sister.

I love to read books that open my mind, makes me ask myself questions and want to find out more. This is what Diane Chamberlain has done for me with Neccessary Lies.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
August 3, 2016
3.5 Stars

Necessary Lies was an engaging and compelling read by Diane chamberlain.

I love how the author took the tough subject of the Eugenics Sterilization Program and wove it into this Fiction story.

The Eugenics Sterilization Program took place between the years of 1929 and 1975 and saw over seven thousand of North Carolina's citizens sterilized. The program targeted the " mentally defective" "feebleminded" inmates in mental institutions and training schools and others whose sterilization was considered " for the public good".

The Characters are extremely well drawn, believable and likable and while the story is sad in places the tone of the book is never depressing.

I enjoyed the read and learned something along the way.
Profile Image for Lynn.
900 reviews131 followers
August 20, 2019
2.5 star but I rounded up to be kind.

This book examines the eugenics program that was in effect in the 1960s in the South whereby people who were determined to be mentally, physically or morally deficient could be sterilized by the State, sometimes without them even knowing. This is a great premise for a book. Unfortunately the execution was lacking.

The story is told from 2 points of view:
Jane, a new social worker for Grace County who finds herself getting emotionally invested with some of her clients. She is appalled by the eugenics program and the idea of sterilizing someone against their will or without their knowledge. Complicating her situation is the fact that her husband is opposed to her working at all.

The other point of view is that of Ivy, a 15 year old girl with mild epilepsy who lives on a tobacco farm with her aging grandmother, older sister and nephew. Ivy seems to be the only one in the home who is capable of running the household, but she has dreams of her own.

I had a few problems with this book. Many of the characters were just one dimensional. For a social worker, Jane was an idiot. There's no getting around it. If you told her something, she immediately blabbed it to someone else, probably the person you least wanted it told to. She had no sense of tact. She was always acting first and regretting her actions later. She never thought anything through. She never thought, period. I mean, who sets off on a drive into the middle of nowhere and doesn't check her gas gauge?
She all feisty when it comes to her clients but immediately caves when her husband or co-workers call her out. I get that this was the 60s but I got whiplash watching her personality change depending on who she was with. There was no consistency in this character.
Another problem was the writing. Really plebeian. Often repetitive. How many times does Ivy have to scream about not wanting to be sterilized? We got it the first few times. Jane and her husband have the same argument over and over again. Boring! This subject matter could have been so much better if handled differently. I have read a few books by this author. Given how frustrated I was reading this one, I think this will be my last. It's hard to read when you are rolling your eyes in disbelief.
Profile Image for Maxine (Booklover Catlady).
1,320 reviews1,252 followers
May 1, 2023
A profoundly moving book. I've never read Diane Chamberlain before, I certainly will be reading more of her books. Every word in this book just flowed, it was lovely to read.

North Carolina, 1960 and Jane Forrester is a new social worker assigned to some clients who are suffering extreme poverty amongst the rural tobacco fields of Grace County. Jane is new to the job and has possibly too big a heart according to others.

The book shifts POV between Jane and a young fifteen year old girl, Ivy, who is one if Jane's clients. The book highlights the Eugenics Sterilization Project, which was legal in North Carolina up until 1974. It was a program that isolated "at risk" women who were then subjected to Sterilization, often at a very young age.

It's poignant and powerful as the lives of the two women intersect and we hear of life from two perspectives. I adored so many of the characters in this novel and the ending was brilliant. It's beautifully written, descriptive and emotional. It's sad in places and joyful in others.

It's not my normal genre of book to read but I'm glad I did, a really special book that really made me think about the aspects of the book that were based on history and true events. I learnt something new via this novel.

Thanks so much for reading my review! If you’d like to connect you can send me a friend request. 🐱

She needed books like others need air to live.

Profile Image for Ceecee.
2,083 reviews1,661 followers
September 5, 2021
I think I read this too soon after The Last House on the Street, it seemed to be following a similar format.

1960 - North Carolina. Fifteen year old Ivy and her sister Mary Ella work on the tobacco farm of the Gardiner family. Their new social worker is Jane, she’s young herself and it’s her first job.

The parts of the story I do engage with are the shocking Eugenics Program and I’m very glad the author raises this issue and I’ve since discovered similar practices in the UK - a stain on both countries. I really like the character of Ivy, she’s admirable and all those in Grace County are well done and you feel such sympathy and anger for the helplessness and powerlessness. The sections with Ivy are the best parts for me.

However, my biggest problem lies with the character of Jane and her actions which for someone of such intelligence make little sense and the consequences of it seem to me to be devices to move the story forward. Her character is so contradictory as she claims to be a modern independent woman yet she marries Robert whose thinking is stuck a few decades earlier??? My frustration with her actions just grows and grows as she says one thing and does another. The ending?? Too neat for my taste.

I realise I’m an outlier and I daresay if I’d read this when it was published I may have felt differently.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,535 reviews9 followers
July 25, 2015
Extremely well written, informative 5-star historical fiction.

I was so naive about the Eugenics Sterilization Program in the U.S., I had to Google it and found out some things even more shocking than what's revealed in this book. The Nazi's eugenics programs were largely based on what America was doing to the blacks, the feeble-minded, and the poor. Even after we saw how Hitler went far beyond what anyone could have imagined, the programs continued into the 60s and 70s. There were also euthanasia programs. Here in my own state of Illinois, a mental institution in a town downstate put tuberculosis in the milk to weed out (kill) the weakest of the patients! Wow! These things happened in America? In my state? In our lifetime?

Diane Chamberlain has proven to me she can write credible fiction, after another of her works failed to impress me. This was a real eye opener, well researched, and just an amazing read. Thanks to all my friends who urged me to read this, to give her another chance. You were right, Cindy!
Profile Image for Sue.
1,347 reviews5 followers
July 7, 2013
I won a copy of "Necessary Lies" by Diane Chamberlain through the Goodreads Giveaway Contest. This a beautifully written moving novel set in the rural South, in Raleigh in Grace County, tells the story of two young women, Jane and Ivy, both faced by tragedy and obstacles in their path.

After losing her parents, fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart is left to care for her aging diabetic grandmother, seventeen year old mentally ill sister, Mary Ella and nephew, baby William as tenants on a small tobacco farm. Mary Ella was kicked out of school when she became pregnant at fourteen.Ivy works on the tobacco farm and is still in school.She has been classified as epileptic, but has not suffered any fits in the last few years. Ivy is the only one who seems able to manage and she 's pretty overwhelmed. But she needs help.

When Jane Forrester takes a position as Grace County’s newest social worker, she doesn’t realize just how much help is needed. She soon becomes emotionally involved in her clients' lives, causing tension with her boss and her new husband. But as Jane talks more Ivy, she begins to discover the dark secrets of the small farm. She must decide whether to take drastic action to help them, based on what she feels is morally right...or lose everything.

The story is set in a time of state-mandated sterilizations and racial tension. The language was particularly effective in relaying the times. The characters are strong and determined. Ivy is a survivor and Jane is a caring person who just wants to help, but is not afraid of standing up for her beliefs. Even though they come from different worlds, the human spirit is strong. A definite 5 Star Rating. Thank you Diane,for allowing me to read this story.
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