Thursday, September 4, 2014

Necessary Lies

Necessary Lies by best-selling author Diane Chamberlain is a historical fiction novel fraught with the charged emotions of the 1960s; a story of hope, courage and redemption that exposes some frightening truths about our collective American history. Set in 1960 North Carolina, Necessary Lies focuses on Jane Forrester and Ivy Hart; two young women worlds apart whose lives are on a collision course with destiny.

Fifteen year old Ivy lives, along with her sister Mary Ella, nephew William, and grandmother Nonnie, as tenants in a small dilapidated home on the small tobacco farm where they toil for barely any income from sunup to sundown. Poverty and need help introduce them to young Jane, the new social worker in charge of their welfare case. Even with welfare the small family barely has enough to eat, relying on the kindness and generosity of the Gardiner family (the farm owners) for scraps and leftovers to make ends meet. Ivy is overwhelmed not only by their financial struggles but also the responsibility of caring for her ailing grandmother, mentally unstable sister, developmentally delayed nephew and her own epilepsy. Ivy’s sole escape comes from those treasured moments when she sneaks away from home at night and meets up with Henry Allen, the Gardiner’s son, and the two can share in their love’s joy and dream of the day when they can run away together to California, get married and raise a family.

By comparison, twenty-two year old Jane is a small town girl who made good by marrying a successful young doctor. Despite society’s expectations for her to just stay home and take care of her home and husband, Jane is an idealist yearning to make a difference in the world. Determined to succeed in her new social worker role, Jane is quickly warned to keep her ideals in her mind and heart, and to learn to put sentimentality and feelings aside, yet she can’t help but to connect on a human level with her client’s fears and sorrows –both with Lita Jordan and her kids, a black family on the same Gardiner farm and the Hart women. Drawn in by both families, but especially by Ivy’s wistful hopes, Jane uncovers some shocking facts not only about their plight, but also about the power she holds in her hands to change their lives forever. As tragic events unfold and secrets are revealed, Jane will struggle between right and wrong and make a decision that will change all their lives forever.

Despite having only read one other book by Diane Chamberlain, I’d stake my money on the statement that this novel has got to be one of her best. A moving story with vividly drawn characters, Necessary Lies was a compelling, poignant and unforgettable book that opened my eyes to an injustice which lives in our past, namely the government’s use of the Eugenics Sterilization Program during the time of our tale.

Wiki defines eugenics as “the belief and practice of improving the genetic quality of the human population.” From 1929 to 1975 North Carolina sterilized over 7,000 of its citizens. The eugenics program targeted the “mentally defective” or “feebleminded” in mental institutions and was considered “for the public good;” but in the 1950s the program shifted to focus on women on welfare. The program permitted social workers to petition a Board on behalf of their clients to have them sterilized – men and women; boys and girls alike. While many social workers used the program to petition in consideration of a client’s best interest, there were still too many egregious and tragic abuses that permitted countless unnecessary and unwanted sterilizations making this program a dark stain on our nation's conscience.

As the story's narrators, both Ivy and Jane were wonderfully written to offer the reader an evocative insight into the hardships that each woman faced; Ivy’s struggles with poverty and lack of education, and for Jane, the courage it took to face the strictures of society at that time. I was irate and heartbroken at the countless injustices depicted in the tale, while thoroughly enmeshed in our two protagonists story and their struggles as I rooted for each – for Jane to do what was right, not necessarily expected or expedient and for Ivy to reach her dreams.

Necessary Lies is an emotionally-gripping and riveting story that informs and enlightens. A fictional moral tale that haunts with the real truths shared.