Necessary LiesReviewed by A.D. Cole

Veteran author Diane Chamberlain’s newest novel, Necessary Lies, delivers the story of two young women from different worlds, but shaped by similar tragedies. It’s 1960 and Jane Forrester, fresh out of college, full of ideals, and just about to get married, enters into the world of social work. She’s promptly assigned to the welfare cases in the fictional Grace County, North Carolina. Upon meeting her first clients, the Hart family, Jane is immediately entangled in a moral and ethical dilemma. It is through this family that she first learns of the (not so fictional) Eugenics Board and the power that social workers have to petition for the sterilization of men and women on welfare.

Ivy Hart, still in many ways a child at fifteen, is sexually active with the son of the farmer who owns the house she lives in. When she meets Mrs. Forrester, the new social worker, she’s immediately drawn to her humanity. Jane asks personal questions. She goes the extra mile to help. She seems to truly care. Until Ivy learns the truth of what was done to her sister, Mary Ella, shortly after she gave birth; and what the welfare board wants to do to her.

The novel opens in present day North Carolina when a woman named Brenna finds what she’s been searching for–a closet in an old house in which there is a simple carving: Ivy and Mary was here. From there, we’re taken back to 1960 and given the story from the alternating perspectives of Jane and Ivy. Both Jane’s country club living standards and Ivy’s unimaginable poverty are vividly depicted. The suspense stems from Ivy’s inability to manage her physically infirm grandmother and her mentally unsound sister and nephew; and from Jane’s rapidly deteriorating relationships with her husband and her employers. Both women are driven by a sense of right and justice that you can’t help but root for.

This is a story, not an exposé. In the author’s note, Chamberlain says she chose not to sensationalize the eugenics program, but rather chose some of the more “normal” examples to base her novel on. You’ll be grateful for that, as even the normal situations are difficult to read. But because of this decision, you feel like you’re being told a story about two women rather than a social critique on a rather dark spot in North Carolina’s history. I always appreciate when an author chooses to simply tell the story and allow us as readers to draw our own conclusions. Given such a controversial topic, I’m pleased and impressed at the author’s ability to pull this off.

This novel was both heartbreaking and encouraging. Jane and Ivy are relentless in their wills to not only survive, but to survive with their personhood in tact. They refuse to sacrifice any part of what they believe in simply to make their lives run more smoothly. These are women we can cheer for. And though there are years between the tragedy and the triumph that were likely filled with sorrow and misery, there was triumph. You can read this story confident that there is a message of hope and redemption in the end.

I would recommend this to anyone. Diane Chamberlain continues to prove she can take you into her world and make you forget real life for the span of the novel. A great read.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.