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Necessary Lies
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Necessary Lies

4.6 76
by Diane Chamberlain

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It is 1960 in North Carolina and the lives of Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester couldn't be more different. Fifteen-year-old Ivy lives with her family as tenants on a small tobacco farm, but when her parents die, Ivy is left to care for her grandmother, older sister, and nephew. As she struggles with her grandmother's aging, her sister's mental illness, and her own


It is 1960 in North Carolina and the lives of Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester couldn't be more different. Fifteen-year-old Ivy lives with her family as tenants on a small tobacco farm, but when her parents die, Ivy is left to care for her grandmother, older sister, and nephew. 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 is given the task of recommending which of her clients should be sterilized without their knowledge or consent. The state's rationalization is that if her clients are poor, or ill, or deemed in some way "unfit" they should not be allowed to have children. But soon Jane becomes emotionally invested in her clients' lives, causing tension with her new husband and her supervisors. No one understands why Jane would want to become a caseworker for the Department of Public Health when she could be a housewife and Junior League member. 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 a life-changing battle.

Necessary Lies is 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?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this heart-wrenching historical fiction, prolific author Chamberlain focuses on a time in North Carolina’s history that most people would rather forget. It’s 1960, and Jane is a 21-year-old newlywed who’s just accepted a job as a social worker, though her husband, Robert, would rather she stay home like the other country club wives. Her clients—poor tobacco farmers in Grace County, like the Hart family—live in the harsh reality of the rural South, with too many mouths to feed and not much to feed them. Jane is eager to help, until she discovers that part of her job is deciding whether young girls like the vivacious Ivy Hart should be sterilized, in order to keep them from having babies that depend on the state. A captivating look at the little-discussed eugenics program that was responsible for sterilizing more than 7,000 American citizens—some without their knowledge—this engrossing novel digs deep into the moral complexity of a dark period in history and brings it to life. Agent: Susan Ginsburg, Writers House. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“This enthralling novel transfixed me from the very first pages.” —Christina Schwarz, New York Times bestselling author of Drowning Ruth

Necessary Lies shines!” —Lesley Kagen, New York Times bestselling author of Mare's Nest

“Expertly intertwines history and matters of the heart - love, loyalty and choosing what is right, no matter the consequences.” —Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence & One Breath Away

“Diane Chamberlain's Necessary Lies is the most important book she has ever written.” —Dorothea Benton Frank, New York Times bestselling author of Porch Lights

Library Journal
In this powerful novel, Chamberlain (Secrets She Left Behind) peels back the disturbing truths about the eugenics sterilization program implemented in North Carolina during the 1960s. Two voices reveal the heartbreak of the state-mandated program, which sterilized the mentally ill, African Americans, those with disabilities, and women on welfare. At 15, Ivy Hart does her best to hold together family life with her diabetic grandmother; her older sister, Mary Ella, who is mentally challenged; and Mary Ella's baby. They live and work as tenants on a tobacco farm in rural North Carolina. In 1960, Jane Forrester marries a doctor and, against his wishes, takes a job as a social worker with the Harts as clients. She's idealistic and shocked to learn that social workers have the power to petition to have clients sterilized. Jane narrates the story of two young women on a collision course with tragedy. VERDICT Chamberlain brings to light the horrors inflicted for years on victims of the eugenics sterilization program. By allowing Ivy and Jane to tell their stories, Chamberlain humanizes the survivors. This is a troubling account, considering how recently involuntary sterilization occurred in this country. Book groups and fans of Jodi Picoult should appreciate this work. [See Prepub Alert, 3/11/13; recently released, The First Lie (ISBN 9781466839403) is an e-original short story that introduces Ivy Hart at age 13.—Ed.]—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN
Kirkus Reviews
An idealistic North Carolina social worker defies her employers to save impoverished children from overzealous social engineering in Chamberlain's well-researched page-turner. Chamberlain's author's notes point out that from 1929 to 1975, North Carolina's state-fostered Eugenics Sterilization Program sterilized thousands of women and men. Her novel, set in 1960, examines the impact of such interventions on a tiny, almost feudal enclave of tobacco farmers. Two narrators represent opposite poles of Southern society. Against the wishes of her doctor husband, Jane Forrester, a recent college graduate, has taken a job in Raleigh with the Department of Public Welfare. Ivy Hart, 15, is struggling to keep what is left of her family intact. Her father, Percy, was killed in an agricultural accident. Davison Gardiner, who owns the farm where the white Harts, and their black neighbors, the Jordans, live and work, allows Ivy, her diabetic grandmother, and her beautiful and mentally challenged sister, Mary Ella, to continue occupying their shack rent-free. Gardiner regularly supplements their paltry wages (and welfare checks) with food donations, presumably out of guilt over Percy's accident, although Ivy's mother, who is institutionalized, scarred Gardiner's wife in a fit of rage and grief. As the Harts' newest caseworker, Jane soon finds herself in an ethical quagmire. At DPW's instigation, Mary Ella, mother of 2-year-old William (father unknown), was involuntarily sterilized in the hospital after his birth. Ivy is sneaking out at night to meet Gardiner's son, Henry Allen. By the time Jane realizes that Ivy is several months pregnant, she has succumbed to departmental pressure to petition for Ivy's sterilization on the grounds of childhood epilepsy and low IQ. Once Ivy delivers her child, she will suffer the same fate as her sister, unless Jane is willing to buck the system at the expense of her career. The stakes mount to dizzying heights (even for such an isolated pocket, Gardiner's unbridled sway over his tenants seems extreme); Chamberlain certainly knows how to escalate tension. Socially conscious melodrama at its best.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

JUNE 22, 2011




It was an odd request—visit a stranger’s house and peer inside a closet—and as I drove through the neighborhood searching for the address, I felt my anxiety mounting.

There it was: number 247. I hadn’t expected the house to be so large. It stood apart from its neighbors on the gently winding road, flanked on either side by huge magnolia trees, tall oaks, and crape myrtle. It was painted a soft buttery yellow with white trim, and everything about it looked crisp and clean in the early morning sun. Every house I’d passed, although different in architecture, had the same stately yet inviting look. I didn’t know Raleigh well at all, but this had to be one of the most beautiful old neighborhoods in the city.

I parked close to the curb and headed up the walk. Potted plants lined either side of the broad steps that led up to the wraparound porch. I glanced at my watch. I had an hour before I needed to be back at the hotel. No rush, though my nerves were really acting up. There was so much I hoped would go well today, and so much of it was out of my control.

I rang the bell and heard it chime inside the house. I could see someone pass behind the sidelight and then the door opened. The woman—forty, maybe? At least ten years younger than me—smiled, although that didn’t mask her harried expression. I felt bad for bothering her this early. She wore white shorts, a pink striped T-shirt, and tennis shoes, and sported a glowing tan. She was the petite, toned, and well-put-together sort of woman that always made me feel sloppy, even though I knew I looked fine in my black pants and blue blouse.

“Brenna?” She ran her fingers through her short-short, spiky blond hair.

“Yes,” I said. “And you must be Jennifer.”

Jennifer peered behind me. “She’s not with you?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I thought she’d come, but at the last minute she said she just couldn’t.”

Jennifer nodded. “Today must be really hard for her.” She took a step back from the doorway. “Come on in,” she said. “My kids are done with school for the summer, but they have swim-team practice this morning, so we’re in luck. We have the house to ourselves. The kids are always too full of questions.”

“Thanks.” I walked past her into the foyer. I was glad no one else was home. I wished I had the house totally to myself, to be honest. I would have loved to explore it. But that wasn’t why I was here.

“Can I get you anything?” Jennifer asked. “Coffee?”

“No, I’m good, thanks.”

“Well, come on then. I’ll show you.”

She led me to the broad, winding staircase and we climbed it without speaking, my shoes on the shiny dark hardwood treads making the only sound.

“How long have you been in the house?” I asked when we reached the second story.

“Five years,” she said. “We redid everything. I mean, we painted every single room and every inch of molding. And every closet, too, except for that one.”

“Why didn’t you paint that one?” I asked as I followed her down a short hallway.

“The woman we bought the house from specifically told us not to. She said that the couple she’d bought the house from had also told her not to, but nobody seemed to understand why not. The woman we bought it from showed us the writing. My husband thought we should just paint over it—I think he was spooked by it—but I talked him out of it. It’s a closet. What would it hurt to leave it unpainted?” We’d reached the closed door at the end of the hall. “I had no idea what it meant until I spoke to you on the phone.” She pushed open the door. “It’s my daughter’s room now,” she said, “so excuse the mess.”

It wasn’t what I’d call messy at all. My twin daughters’ rooms had been far worse. “How old’s your daughter?” I asked.

“Ten. Thus the Justin Bieber obsession.” She swept her arm through the air to take in the lavender room and its nearly wall-to-wall posters.

“It only gets worse.” I smiled. “I barely survived my girls’ teen years.” I thought of my family—my husband and my daughters and their babies—up in Maryland and suddenly missed them. I hoped I’d be home by the weekend, when all of this would be over.

Jennifer opened the closet door. It was a small closet, the type you’d find in these older homes, and it was crammed with clothes on hangers and shoes helter-skelter on the floor. I felt a chill, as though a ghost had slipped past me into the room. I hugged my arms as Jennifer pulled a cord to turn on the light. She pressed the clothes to one side of the closet.

“There,” she said, pointing to the left wall at about the level of my knees. “Maybe we need a flashlight?” she asked. “Or I can just take a bunch of these clothes out. I should have done that before you got here.” She lifted an armload of the clothes and struggled to disengage the hangers before carrying them from the closet. Without the clothing, the closet filled with light and I squatted inside the tight space, pushing pink sneakers and a pair of sandals out of my way.

I ran my fingers over the words carved into the wall. Ancient paint snagged my fingertips where it had chipped away around the letters. “Ivy and Mary was here.” All at once, I felt overwhelmed by the fear they must have felt back then, and by their courage. When I stood up, I was brushing tears from my eyes.

Jennifer touched my arm. “You okay?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said. “I’m grateful to you for not covering that over. It makes it real to me.”

“If we ever move out of this house, we’ll tell the new owners to leave it alone, too. It’s a little bit of history, isn’t it?”

I nodded. I remembered my phone in my purse. “May I take a picture of it?”

“Of course!” Jennifer said, then added with a laugh, “Just don’t get my daughter’s messy closet in it.”

I pulled out my phone and knelt down near the writing on the wall. I snapped the picture and felt the presence of a ghost again, but this time it wrapped around me like an embrace.


Copyright © 2013 by Diane Chamberlain Books, Inc.

Meet the Author

DIANE CHAMBERLAIN is the bestselling author of twenty-two novels published in more than eleven languages. She lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her shelties, Keeper and Cole.

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Necessary Lies 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 76 reviews.
quaintinns More than 1 year ago
I received an advance reading copy of Necessary Lies and could not wait to dive in! I stayed up all night and finished it this morning! An extraordinary and inspirational novel-cannot stop thinking about it----Diane did an outstanding job with a complex topic and her excellent research skills were definitely reflective throughout the book with careful plot planning and storytelling. Her best work thus far! From the character development (loved Jane/Ivy), the dialect, insight, the setting – she nailed it! A beautiful story of loss, love, struggles, difficult choices, and redemption (loved the ending). I could very much relate being from the rural south (NC) in the sixties. Diane offers an insight as to the difficult choices and a close-up of how minors with little or no control over certain circumstances--with the feeling of no way out of their environment in order to change the vicious cycle---- Combine this with others having the power to make choices for them without thinking of their future or their best interests. (It was amazing how much control social workers had over situations during this era.) Hats off to the tenacious professionals who “cross the lines” and take a chance for the welfare of their clients and their futures. 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. A Must Read! I look forward to the e-book The First Lie as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The strength of the human spirit definitely rules this storyline. This is another good one to have young ones read not only for the history of it but for the realization of what is important in life and what isn't. This is a beautifully written and memorable book to recommend and maybe even reread.
DiiMI More than 1 year ago
Set in rural Grace County, North Carolina in a time of state-mandated sterilizations and racial tension, Jane, a newly married social worker, who “wants to make a difference,” and Ivy, part of a poverty-stricken family whose remaining members each carry the result of tainted secrets in the family closet, are thrown together by circumstance and must ask themselves: how can you know what you believe is right, when everyone is telling you it’s wrong? Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain is a gut-wrenching tale of poverty, bureaucracy and the will to survive against the odds while doing the right thing at any cost. From page one, I was thrown into an unbelievable page out of history, wondering how ANYONE or any government could impose such mandates on another. Told from alternating points of view, I felt and saw both sides of life, from the day to day struggles to the mental turmoil and desperation felt by Ivy and Jane living in an era and place so different from anything I have ever known. Diane Chamberlain writes with a flair for keeping this real and raw, yet not so over-powering that the reader feels they are reading horror fiction. Her style is eye-opening and will keep you turning each page, hoping for a happy ending for the well-drawn characters. Expect this one to stay with you for a long time. I strongly suggest you read The First Lie, a short story prequel to Necessary Lies. You’ll be glad you did. I was provided an ARC edition from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was drawn into this novel immediately and couldn't put it down. It kept me enthralled. I have now purchased another of Diane Chamberlain's Nook books as I found her style of writing to be capturing and inspirational. It was an eye opening reality of the situations and conditions that impoverished people had to endure and how they were manipulated, devastated and disregarded as human beings and how one person can make a difference just by caring. Great Job!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some books are unforgettable and "Necessary Lies" is one of those. The characters, plots, interwoven story is sad and beautiful. I have read most of Diane Chamberlain's books and this is one of her very best. It is the kind of book I want to tell all my friends who read that this is a must read. It is so good!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, hard to put down, but a tough read all the same
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From the first sentence you are entanced
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first story I've read by this author, and it was fantastic! Very easy to get lost in this story, very likeable characters. It hooked me very quickly, and the ending was a satisfying one with all/most questions answered. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was filled with suspense, drama, love, and history. I easily related to the main character since I too face similar difficult choices in my career. The historical component is intriguing and crontroversial. It raises many questions with uneasy answers. Necessary Lies could not be a better title for this story!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This author delves into interesting topics. If you enjoy Jodi Piccoult, you will like Diane Chamberlain as well. Good read.
jdogjojo04061956 More than 1 year ago
dangitgirl More than 1 year ago
Loved this book!!! Set in 1960s NC with a new social worker thrown into the field in the midst of eugenics sterilization program.  the focus is on several families still living on a tenant farm. the characters are real and your heart bleeds for them and for the social worker who struggles with morality and the system's abuse and unnecessary imposition of sterilization.  also the social impact of her job on her marriage at a time when it was looked down upon for white women to work.
JosieUtah More than 1 year ago
I had no knowledge of the practices of the injustices done to the poor, illiterate, and blacks in this nation during the 50's and 60's. This book was a real eye opener for me.
louieML More than 1 year ago
I am not finished reading this book, but look forward every night to read a couple of chapters. It's one of this books that's hard to stop reading. The characters are easy to get to know and understand. It's a story of prejudices and tender hearts. If you want warmth and love, this is the book for you.
Literary_Marie More than 1 year ago
Picture a small southern town fifty years ago. Fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart is a tenant on a tobacco farm. Unlike other young girls her age, she is the head of household. Ivy cares for her grandmother, older sister and baby nephew. With her grandmother's aging, her older sister's mental illness, her baby nephew's slow development skills and her own epilepsy, Ivy struggles to hold it together. Jane is a newlywed who wishes to be independent and work. To her husband's dismay, she takes on a position as Grace County's newest social worker. Turns out Jane is too nice for social work. Before you know it, Jane becomes emotionally attached to the Hart family and at a crossroads whether to take a step back or risk her career to help clients. The characters in Necessary Lies are fictional but the Eugenics Sterilization Program is very real. According to the Author's Note, North Carolina sterilized over 7,000 of its citizens. North Carolina is the only state that gave social workers the power to petition for sterilization of individuals. If it weren't for Diane Chamberlain, this program would be unknown to me. Color me thankful to the author for bringing awareness, then color me appalled that so many individuals were affected by this program from 1929 until 1975. Diane Chamberlain is an international bestselling author. I have read three of her twenty-two novels (The Good Father, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes and The Midwife's Confession). All of the books I've read are highly recommended. The stories are deep, detailed and touch your heart. After reading the prequel The First Lie, I was anxious to see the story unfold and was satisfied with the full-circle ending of Necessary Lies. I will not hesitate to read a Diane Chamberlain novel and hope to catch up on her earlier released novels. I suggest my bookhearts do the same. Literary Marie of Precision Reviews
Tl44 3 months ago
Loved it! Diane Chamberlain always manages to craft excellent stories that keep the reader engrossed til the very end.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Not only was this novel beautifully and realistically written, it educated me about a horrifying sterilization program in North Carolina from 1924-1974. This book, however, is set in the early 50's. I couldn't put it down...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just an ok book for me; too predictable
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This pulled me in right from the start. Such a well written story of value. I will always remember this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved rhe story andthe time period.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We need more books like this so that our not so glorious history is not buried from future generations, I would also recommend "Wrongful Death-The Aids Trial" by Stephen Davis
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a GREAT book! The characters are so well written, you heart aches for them. Highly recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago