Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

This is a fabulous story set in the 1960’s in the rural South. Jane is a newlywed, fresh out of college and eager to start her first “professional” job as a social worker. As she becomes increasingly involved in the daily lives of her poverty stricken clients, both white and black families, her wealthy pediatrician husband tries harder to convince her not to work. He would rather her join the Junior League and waste her days away with the other country club wives, as it looks bad for him to have a wife who insists on working. Jane, however, finds great pleasure in her work, as she is truly helping those in need. Soon she meets the Hart family, 17 year old Mary Ella, her 2 year old illegitimate child William,  grandmother Nonnie, and 15 year old Ivy. The girls work on a tobacco farm, which is where their house is located, while William is barely supervised by Nonnie. Mary Ella has some sort of mental illness, William is deemed “slow”, and Nonnie has multiple health problems. Ivy, though she keeps the family together as best as she can, also suffers from epilepsy. As Jane gets to know them, she softens and becomes especially close to Ivy, which could soon cost her a lot in her own personal life.

This story reads quickly because something is always happening to keep the reader’s interest. The way the author depicts daily life in these poor families is heart wrenching, raw, and real. I wasn’t aware of the history about sterilization of colored women, epileptics, poor people, and people of low IQ during the 1960’s. The author includes historically accurate notes at the back of the book that are mind blowing. What a terribly sad thing this was for so many people who weren’t even given a choice. The author put together a beautiful story which brought this important and somewhat overlooked topic of government mandated sterilization to life. I would highly encourage reading this book. It would be an excellent choice for book clubs to discuss.

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