Date Published: 2013-09-03
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
Audiobook Narrator: Alison Elliott
Description: 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?
I definitely didn’t know what to expect with this book since the blurb is a bit mysterious but I admit this is a great book club selection. I was expecting some deep dark family secrets, but instead the “secrets much darker than she could have guessed” refers to the laws and practices in place at the time. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say the book deals with the Eugenics program and the sterilization of those considered mentally unable to care for themselves or their children. In my opinion this book definitely had an agenda, and I struggle with enjoying obvious agenda stories. I did like it nonetheless and thought the plot was intriguing and the characters were really well depicted. I liked the dual POV between Ivy (the poor 15 year old on welfare) and Jane (the social worker), though I thought the audio narrator didn’t do a great job making the two voices sound different enough. I liked getting the perspective of Ivy and her family because the details of their life on a Tobacco farm and family situation with the diabetic grandmother, the mentally challenged sister and nephew, really helped paint the picture of their situation and I could really empathize and understand why Jane was so moved to want to help them. I really liked Ivy, and I really liked Jane for taking action to protect Ivy and stand up for what she believed was right. I also liked that the book started with a scene from present day, then told the story from 1960 for the majority of the book, then switched back to present day to finish. However, I really missed reading some of the details that were glossed over. For example, I wanted to know more about what happened with Jane after she was arrested and when her husband returned from his trip. Obviously from reading the last scenes we know what happened with them in the general sense, but I wanted to see a little more detail. Also, if I hadn’t read the Author’s Note, I wouldn’t have understood what hearing they were attending at the end of the story. That scene felt a bit rushed to me as well. I did really love Ivy and Jane’s reunion though. I understand why Jane couldn’t find Ivy simply by Googling, but I would have thought Ivy might have wanted to find Jane again.
The book club I read this book for had the author join our meting via Skype and answer some of our questions. I took notes and below is our discussion.
North West Book Club Skype with Diane Chamberlain about Necessary Lies
When asked if Diane was able to meet with someone affected but the eugenics program, she said she intentionally did not want to interview anyone sterilized under the program. She didn’t want to have to take someone’s story and change it. Instead she interviewed social workers and psychologists.
Diane said this about the epilogue: it was important to show that Ivy went on to have children.
She had to end the book somewhere, so she made an executive decision to end where she did, and not show details about Jane’s trial, her divorce, and more details about Ivy and Henry Allen.
When asked about the topic of women’s reproductive rights she simply said she has very strong opinions on the matter.
A question was asked if Diane considered making Ivy African American. Diane told us that as she researched the eugenics program, she realized the majority of the people in the program were Caucasian. She chose to make Ivy and her family white to illustrate the breadth of the program to people who are mentally ill, epileptic, etc.
She let us know that sometimes when you are writing, your characters tell you something you don’t expect. An example of that was how some of the characters were interrelated.
Diane is currently finishing up her 23rd book, and Necessary Lies is her favorite so far. She also wrote a prequel short story and may write another short story at some point in the future.
She decided to become a writer one day when she was 31 and was waiting for a doctor’s appointment. She had a notebook and had already read all the magazines (her doctor was late) so she started jotting down a story that had been in her mind since she was a pre-teen. It started out as a hobby but when she took a writing class, she was encouraged to try publishing. In 1989 she published her first book.
The group asked Diane if the birth scene in Necessary Lies was intentionally written as a struggle with the characters being completely clueless about the delivery, since in some of her other books Diane has a midwife character and the birth scenes are very empowering. She told us she initially did not even want to write this birth scene but her editor convinced her it needed to be included in detail and had to be a difficult one. She originally wanted to make Jane’s mother a nurse, but was convinced to change that fact as well.
Diane was asked how she handles negative reviews and whether she reads them, since there are many authors who say they don’t read reviews of their book. She cracked us up with a straight-faced answer of “I don’t believe them”. She told us she rarely gets bad reviews, but she has to read the 1 star reviews. She did say that she is most interested in reading 3 star reviews because she can learn from them.
We asked her how she handles social media distractions and if she can block them out and write. She told us she’s currently late on a book because she cannot block out social media distractions. She said Facebook destroyed her discipline.
We asked her what genres she refuses to write, and she said she is just not interested in writing paranormal, horror, or sci-fi, though she does like time travel.
When asked what format of books she prefers for her own books to be available in, she said she wants her books to be available in any format to reach the most readers.
We asked her how she deals with new ideas that pop up in her mind, and she said she always finishes the book she’s currently writing first. That is her job after all. But she takes a few notes and thinks about the ideas in the back of her mind until she can write about it. She said it is hard to hold two ideas at once.
When asked if either of the main characters are based on her own personality or are completely opposite from her she said that she didn’t really think about her own personality when writing the book. Ivy is completely different from her and Jane is much braver but also much more stupid (Diane would never buck the system like Jane did).
We asked her about the indie and self publishing options these days. She said she thinks it is cool to have all these alternatives to publishing. She said switching to self publishing wouldn’t make sense for her because she has really nice contracts and couldn’t reach as many people if she self published. But she did say she released her out of print books independently recently.
We asked her to recommend some of her favorite books:
- Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King
- The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
- The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
- The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
She is currently reading: We Are Water by Wally Lamb.
The author she was most influenced by is E.B. White. She specifically mentioned Charlotte’s Web.
Diane is currently writing a book called The Silent Sister that is due to release in October.