Necessary Lies – Diane Chamberlain

Necessary Lies

Publisher: Pan McMillan

Synopsis from Goodreads:

North Carolina, 1960. Newlywed Jane Forrester, fresh out of university, is seeking 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.

My thoughts:

Necessary Lies tells the story of Jane Forrester and Ivy Hart. Jane is young and newly married to Robert, a pediatrician. She is desperate to have a career of her own before starting a family, very much against her husband’s wishes. She obtains a job as a social worker and from the start, she is thrown in at the deep end and has to trust her instincts when dealing with the poorer families in her care – which includes the Harts.

Ivy is 15 years old and lives with her ailing grandmother Nonnie, elder sister Mary Ella and baby William in a tiny house on the estate of her employer, Davison Gardiner. In return for the free lodgings Ivy and Mary Ella work for a pittance on the Davison’s tobacco farm. Mary Ella is 17 and classed as “feebleminded”. She has a young baby, 2 year old William and thus Ivy shoulders the responsibility of trying to look after the family in a situation of extreme poverty.

Ivy has dreams of her own and she and her boyfriend, Henry Allen, the only son of Davison Gardiner meet up secretly and plan their future, far away from Grace County.

Jane discovers a shocking secret about the Hart family and indeed, this is something that affects other families in similar circumstances in the County including friends and neighbours of the Harts. She is faced with a dilemma and her decision could have devastating consequences for the Hart family and also for her own life.

Such is the level of extreme poverty, racial segregation and harsh treatment of those on welfare payments, it was hard to believe that this story was set in 1960 America and not in much earlier times. Even though she comes from a middle class family, Jane is not immune from the prejudices of the time and she faces being ostracized by some of her peers because of her decision to work, especially in the career field that she has chosen. It appears that the state has decided that because these families are on welfare, they do not have the right to decide their own destiny and decisions must be made for them. There were still great divides between white and black with segregation being the norm.

The author has incorporated into the story the Eugenics programme, which was in place from 1929 until 1975. I had heard about this in relation to Nazi war times but didn’t realise that the US also had its own similar programme continuing in much later years. It is truly shocking to think that the most vulnerable people were subject to decisions made by others simply because they were regarded as “mentally defective” or had certain illnesses.

This was a compelling and powerful read and the sense of poverty and hopelessness that such families suffered is almost too difficult to comprehend. This is not only a fictional story but also an educational one.

I’ve always enjoyed reading Diane Chamberlain’s books however this one is particularly hard hitting and thought provoking and one which I would definitely recommend.

There is also an e-book available called “The First Lie” which is a prequel set two years before this story starts and is an introduction to Ivy Hart and her sister Mary Ella. I read this after I had read Necessary Lies and I don’t really think it makes a difference whether you read it before or after the main book. 

My rating 5/5

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