Review: Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

Title: Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Fiction, Historical (1960)
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: A+ & A Recommended Read

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


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?

The Review:

Necessary Lies is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that paints a vivid portrait of poverty, sexism, racism and social work in rural North Carolina in 1960. Very different from her previous works, Diane Chamberlain’s latest release is an emotional and compelling story about a young idealistic social worker and the poverty stricken family that captures her heart.

Newly married to a successful pediatrician, Jane Forrester bucks tradition when she takes a job as a social worker instead of becoming a housewife. Jane is ill-prepared for her new career, but she is enthusiastic and dedicated to her clients. Unable to maintain a professional distance, Jane is quickly enmeshed in the lives of fifteen year old Ivy Hart, her seventeen year old sister Mary Ella and elderly grandmother Nonnie. As horrifying secrets come to light, Jane fights to protect Ivy from the system that is supposed to protect her.

Jane is refreshingly honest and stands behind her convictions. She loves her husband, but she refuses to give up her career for him. Jane is kindhearted and although she is a little overwhelmed in the beginning, she is determined to help the people she encounters. Jane is tenacious and willing to fight for what she believes in.

Ivy is mature beyond her years yet she is also quite innocent and naive. Often taking a motherly role, Ivy keeps a close eye on her diabetic grandmother and two year old nephew. Ivy’s relationship with neighbor Henry Allen is sweet yet neither teenager is prepared for the consequences of their actions.

Told in first person from alternating points of view, Necessary Lies is a study in contrasts as affluent and well-educated Jane becomes acquainted with her poverty stricken and barely educated clients. Jane unexpectedly finds common ground with young Ivy and some of their circumstances are surprisingly similar. Rich or poor, women’s choices were limited in 1960 and while Ivy’s decisions were made by her grandmother and the welfare system, Jane’s fate was often in her husband’s hands. Jane is sometimes forced to go to drastic lengths to protect her own and Ivy’s best interests.

Based on real life events, Diane Chamberlain’s Necessary Lives is an eye-opening and sometimes heartbreaking story. Never bleak or depressing, it is an engrossing and sometimes chilling novel about the welfare system and the incredible amount of power that was once afforded to social workers in North Carolina. A must read novel that I highly, highly recommend.

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