Monday, September 02, 2013

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

I wasn't aware of the practice of Eugenics in this country until I read Kelli Stanley's City of Secrets. Now, Diane Chamberlain reveals how recently the practice of forced sterilization occurred in her powerful, disturbing novel, Necessary Lies. I'd definitely recommend this book for book groups and fans of Jodi Picoult.

Ivy Hart is fifteen, a poor teenager trying to keep her family together. She works with her mentally challenged older sister, Mary Ella, on a tobacco farm in rural North Carolina, where they live with their diabetic grandmother, and Mary Ella's young son. Ivy's father died in a farm accident. Her schizophrenic mother is institutionalized. Ivy is secretly in love with Henry Allen, the son of the farm's owner, and the two young teens have dreams of going to California together.

At twenty-one, Jane Forrester has her own dreams. Some have been satisfied with her recent marriage to a pediatrician who calls her "refreshing", although she's too radical for his parents. However, it's 1960, and Jane wants to work as a social worker. The job working with clients in rural areas will be an eye-opening experience for the young woman. Her husband isn't happy with a working wife, and she certainly won't tell him everything that happens when she's with clients. And, he doesn't understand why she's shocked and troubled when she learns that social workers can petition the Eugenics Board to get certain clients sterilized. And, she's heartsick when she learns the story and plans for the Harts.

Necessary Lies is a fascinating, troubling story, made even more horrifying with the author's note. "From 1929 until 1975, North Carolina sterilized over seven thousand of its citizens." Their crime? They might have been mentally ill, African American, or women on welfare. Chamberlain's novel is the story of two young women caught up in a collision course with tragedy, and one woman's valiant effort to thwart the system. It's powerful, horrifying, and a story that needed to be told.

Diane Chamberlain's website is

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain. St. Martin's Press. 2013. ISBN 9781250010698 (hardcover), 352p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received a copy in order to review it for a journal.


Sandie Herron said...

Wow, that does sound like it could be very disturbing. I wonder if more good was done than bad? I guess the book would say. It does seem odd that this happens in the USA. It's a bit like Roe vs. Wade.

I'm definitely putting this one on my TBR pile.

Lesa said...

It happened much more recently than it should have, Sandie. It was a disturbing story. Excellent, though.