Necessary Lies – Diane Chamberlain 

Blurb:  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.

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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?

Necessary Lies was a bit of a slow starter for me.  I didn’t find the characters immediately accessible and most of the early chapters are scene and character setting, so not a lot was happening to grab my interest.

Once the plot really started to develop, my opinion completely changed.  The characters were utterly compelling and I was fully invested in their happiness.  From approximately halfway through the book I lost the ability to put it down…I just had to know what happened next!

Some of the issues raised in the story were unfamiliar and shocking to me.  I was aware of eugenics as it related to the atrocities of Nazi Germany, but had no idea that these practices occurred elsewhere under the guise of social care.  Alongside smaller, but also shocking to me, events like a woman needing her husband’s permission to access contraception, Diane Chamberlain paints a horrifyingly real picture of the restrictions of womanhood and poverty combined that has left me with much food for thought long after the final page.

There were a few mysteries along the way, mostly relating to character’s histories, and one in particular that could be considered a twist (which I won’t ruin here!).  I had already guessed part of that secret before it was revealed, but was kept guessing in other areas, which was refreshing for me as I am generally  a competent plot-predictor.

Whilst the ending deviated somewhat from the strict realism of the rest of the novel, I am glad that Chamberlain opted for a *spoiler* happy ending for her characters.  Without it the story would just have been too sad and bleak, but thankfully we are left with a satisfying, if convenient, conclusion which I fear did not materialise for the real life counterparts of our protagonists.

I recommend this book for fans of historical fiction and dilemma novels of the Jodi Picault kind.  It is a harrowing, fascinating, entertaining read, that examines big moral questions but in a well-written, readable style.

Sometimes colouring outside the lines can cost you.  Only you can figure out if it’s worth it.

– Diane Chamberlain, Necessary Lies

For more from Diane Chamberlain, you can find her website here.

Or you can find her on Facebook or Twitter.

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