Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: Necessary Lies

Necessary Lies
by Diane Chamberlain

Why did you choose this book? July book club selection
When did you read this book? June 2014
Who should read this book? readers who are okay with difficult subjects
Source: library
Here is a synopsis of Necessary Lies from Goodreads

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?

My Review

This is a ‘book hangover’ book and should definitely be on your book club selection list. There are so many things to think about and discuss with this book. It is historical fiction, set about fifty years ago, and can be used as a starting point to learn so much about that era. I think I’d heard about the eugenics program in the US, or mandatory sterilization of the handicapped. But it seemed like something from Nazi Germany, so I’m not sure I ever grasped that this was real OR that it was so recent in our history! A more familiar issue from that era that this novel deals with is the racial divide and the dangers to whites and blacks that openly socialized, especially in the rural south. I think one subject that may surprise younger readers is the lack of freedom women had at that time. Though everyone has probably heard stories of well-educated women gave up their ideas of a career in favor of family once they were married, I think this book lets us actually experience the attitudes that husbands and other women had and the pressure there was to actually give up a career. It also clearly demonstrates how the man was in control; Jane’s doctor actually refused to prescribe birth control unless she had her husband’s permission! We’ve come a long way, baby!

In addition to the issues, though, this was a very good story and I really connected with the characters. I really appreciated that the author showed both the positives and the flaws of the characters. This made it much easier to understand and accept the way a character reacted. One example is Nonnie, the grandmother. She was a tough lady and could be violent when angry (by today’s standards; in earlier times taking a switch to a child was completely acceptable in most people’s view), but she had a soft, loving side she was reluctant to show.  

These characters and issues will stick with me for quite awhile. I’m sure this will be on my ‘best reads of 2014’ list at the end of the year!

You can visit Diane Chamberlain’s website where you can find more information about the author, read and excerpt of Necessary Lies, and find a reader’s guide with discussion questions for your book club.

My Rating:  ★★★★1/2   4-1/2 Stars
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