Necessary Lies (Chamberlain)

Necessary Lies  
Diane Chamberlain, 2013
St. Martin's Press
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-1250054517

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? (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Plainfield, New Jersey, USA
Education—B.A., M.A., San Diego State University
Awards—RITA Award
Currently—lives in North Carolina

In her own words:
I was an insatiable reader as a child, and that fact, combined with a vivid imagination, inspired me to write. I penned a few truly terrible "novellas" at age twelve, then put fiction aside for many years as I pursued my education.

I grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent my summers at the Jersey Shore, two settings that have found their way into my novels.

In high school, my favorite authors were the unlikely combination of Victoria Holt and Sinclair Lewis. I loved Holt's flair for romantic suspense and Lewis's character studies as well as his exploration of social values, and both those authors influenced the writer I am today.

I attended Glassboro State College in New Jersey as a special education major before moving to San Diego, where I received both my bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from San Diego State University. After graduating, I worked in a couple of youth counseling agencies and then focused on medical social work, which I adored. I worked at Sharp Hospital in San Diego and Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in adolescents. I reluctantly closed my practice in 1992 when I realized that I could no longer split my time between two careers and be effective at both of them.

It was while I was working in San Diego that I started writing. I'd had a story in my mind since I was a young adolescent about a group of people living together at the Jersey Shore. While waiting for a doctor's appointment one day, I pulled out a pen and pad began putting that story on paper. Once I started, I couldn't stop. I took a class in fiction writing, but for the most part, I "learned by doing." That story, Private Relations, took me four years to complete. I sold it in 1986, but it wasn't published until 1989 (three very long years!), when it earned me the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel. Except for a brief stint writing for daytime TV (One Life to Live) and a few miscellaneous articles for newspapers and magazines, I've focused my efforts on book-length fiction and am currently working on my nineteenth novel.

My stories are often filled with mystery and suspense, and–I hope–they also tug at the emotions. Relationships – between men and women, parents and children, sisters and brothers – are always the primary focus of my books. I can't think of anything more fascinating than the way people struggle with life's trials and tribulations, both together and alone.

In the mid-nineties, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a challenging disease to live with. Although my RA is under good control with medication and I can usually type for many hours a day, I sometimes rely on voice recognition technology to get words on paper. I’m very grateful to the inventor of that software! I lived in Northern Virginia until the summer of 2005, when I moved to North Carolina, the state that inspired so many of my stories and where I live with my significant other, photographer John Pagliuca. I have three grown stepdaughters, three sons-in-law, three grandbabies, and two shelties named Keeper and Jet.

For me, the real joy of writing is having the opportunity to touch readers with my words. I hope that my stories move you in some way and give you hours of enjoyable reading. (From the author's website)

Book Reviews
Jane...discovers that part of her job is deciding whether young girls...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.
Publishers Weekly

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.  —Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., IN
Library Journal

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....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.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Did the truth about Mr. Gardiner’s involvement with Mary Ella surprise you? If not, at what point did you begin to suspect it?

2. Charlotte gives Jane a lot of reasons for why the Eugenics Sterilization Program is a good thing for both individuals and society. What are the reasons she gives and what were your reactions to them?

3. Various people throughout the story tell Jane that she is too emotionally invested in her clients, and Fred refers to her as "a loose cannon." Have you ever been in a situation where you had to balance emotional investment with professionalism?

4. Jane picks up on a lot of subtle but important details about the Harts during the extra time she spends with them. What key pieces of information does she glean from these interactions that she doesn’t get from her formal interviews?

5. At one point Ivy observes that, "It was like the whole world was moving forward, taking Henry Allen with it, while I was holding still." How are the lives and actions of the various female characters influenced or restricted by their role in society as women?

6. Jane knows Lois for a short time, but it is a time when Jane most needs a friend, and Lois has a profound effect on her. Has there been someone who was only in your life briefly, but had a big impact on you?

7. How much of a role do you think the loss of Jane’s sister played in her determination to help Ivy?

8. Jane’s mother tells her, "Sometimes coloring outside the lines can cost you. Only you can figure out if it’s worth it." Can you think of a situation from your own life to which this applies? Did coloring outside the lines cost you, and was it worth it?

9. How did you feel about the way the different characters lives turned out, as revealed by Ivy at the end of the story?

10. What do you think you would have done if you were in Jane’s position? Would you have put Baby William in foster care sooner, or not at all? Would you have told Mary Ella about her sterilization? Would you have gone as far as hiding Ivy in your home?

11. What would you have done in Ivy’s position? Would you have gone with Jane? Would you have taken a different path?

12. Jane realizes that whether or not a person is perceived as intelligent has a lot to do with whether or not he/she is in a familiar environment. What examples of this do we see?

13. How do racial prejudices play a role in different people’s assumptions, including Jane’s, about what is happening between the residents at the Gardiner’s farm?

14. Ivy realizes that she and Jane have more in common than she ever imagined. What are some similarities between them?

15. The social services system as depicted in this novel displays a hierarchy of power that trickles all the way from Jane’s boss, Fred, through the different levels in the office and the different people on the Gardiner’s farm all the way down to Baby William. What different levels of power do we see, and how are people at each level restricted in the power they have over their own actions and the actions of others?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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