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Necessary Lies
by Diane Chamberlain

Published: 2013-09-03
Hardcover : 343 pages
48 members reading this now
123 clubs reading this now
25 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 23 of 23 members

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 ...

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Introduction

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?

Editorial Review

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Excerpt

JUNE 22, 2011

1

Brenna

It was an odd request—visit a stranger’s house and peer inside a closet—and as I drove through the neighborhood searching for the address, I felt my anxiety mounting.

There it was: number 247. I hadn’t expected the house to be so large. It stood apart from its neighbors on the gently winding road, flanked on either side by huge magnolia trees, tall oaks, and crape myrtle. It was painted a soft buttery yellow with white trim, and everything about it looked crisp and clean in the early morning sun. Every house I’d passed, although different in architecture, had the same stately yet inviting look. I didn’t know Raleigh well at all, but this had to be one of the most beautiful old neighborhoods in the city.

I parked close to the curb and headed up the walk. Potted plants lined either side of the broad steps that led up to the wraparound porch. I glanced at my watch. I had an hour before I needed to be back at the hotel. No rush, though my nerves were really acting up. There was so much I hoped would go well today, and so much of it was out of my control.

I rang the bell and heard it chime inside the house. I could see someone pass behind the sidelight and then the door opened. The woman—forty, maybe? At least ten years younger than me—smiled, although that didn’t mask her harried expression. I felt bad for bothering her this early. She wore white shorts, a pink striped T-shirt, and tennis shoes, and sported a glowing tan. She was the petite, toned, and well-put-together sort of woman that always made me feel sloppy, even though I knew I looked fine in my black pants and blue blouse.

“Brenna?” She ran her fingers through her short-short, spiky blond hair.

“Yes,” I said. “And you must be Jennifer.”

Jennifer peered behind me. “She’s not with you?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I thought she’d come, but at the last minute she said she just couldn’t.”

Jennifer nodded. “Today must be really hard for her.” She took a step back from the doorway. “Come on in,” she said. “My kids are done with school for the summer, but they have swim-team practice this morning, so we’re in luck. We have the house to ourselves. The kids are always too full of questions.”

“Thanks.” I walked past her into the foyer. I was glad no one else was home. I wished I had the house totally to myself, to be honest. I would have loved to explore it. But that wasn’t why I was here.

“Can I get you anything?” Jennifer asked. “Coffee?”

“No, I’m good, thanks.”

“Well, come on then. I’ll show you.”

She led me to the broad, winding staircase and we climbed it without speaking, my shoes on the shiny dark hardwood treads making the only sound.

“How long have you been in the house?” I asked when we reached the second story.

“Five years,” she said. “We redid everything. I mean, we painted every single room and every inch of molding. And every closet, too, except for that one.”

“Why didn’t you paint that one?” I asked as I followed her down a short hallway.

“The woman we bought the house from specifically told us not to. She said that the couple she’d bought the house from had also told her not to, but nobody seemed to understand why not. The woman we bought it from showed us the writing. My husband thought we should just paint over it—I think he was spooked by it—but I talked him out of it. It’s a closet. What would it hurt to leave it unpainted?” We’d reached the closed door at the end of the hall. “I had no idea what it meant until I spoke to you on the phone.” She pushed open the door. “It’s my daughter’s room now,” she said, “so excuse the mess.”

It wasn’t what I’d call messy at all. My twin daughters’ rooms had been far worse. “How old’s your daughter?” I asked.

“Ten. Thus the Justin Bieber obsession.” She swept her arm through the air to take in the lavender room and its nearly wall-to-wall posters.

“It only gets worse.” I smiled. “I barely survived my girls’ teen years.” I thought of my family—my husband and my daughters and their babies—up in Maryland and suddenly missed them. I hoped I’d be home by the weekend, when all of this would be over.

Jennifer opened the closet door. It was a small closet, the type you’d find in these older homes, and it was crammed with clothes on hangers and shoes helter-skelter on the floor. I felt a chill, as though a ghost had slipped past me into the room. I hugged my arms as Jennifer pulled a cord to turn on the light. She pressed the clothes to one side of the closet.

“There,” she said, pointing to the left wall at about the level of my knees. “Maybe we need a flashlight?” she asked. “Or I can just take a bunch of these clothes out. I should have done that before you got here.” She lifted an armload of the clothes and struggled to disengage the hangers before carrying them from the closet. Without the clothing, the closet filled with light and I squatted inside the tight space, pushing pink sneakers and a pair of sandals out of my way.

I ran my fingers over the words carved into the wall. Ancient paint snagged my fingertips where it had chipped away around the letters. “Ivy and Mary was here.” All at once, I felt overwhelmed by the fear they must have felt back then, and by their courage. When I stood up, I was brushing tears from my eyes.

Jennifer touched my arm. “You okay?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said. “I’m grateful to you for not covering that over. It makes it real to me.”

“If we ever move out of this house, we’ll tell the new owners to leave it alone, too. It’s a little bit of history, isn’t it?”

I nodded. I remembered my phone in my purse. “May I take a picture of it?”

“Of course!” Jennifer said, then added with a laugh, “Just don’t get my daughter’s messy closet in it.”

I pulled out my phone and knelt down near the writing on the wall. I snapped the picture and felt the presence of a ghost again, but this time it wrapped around me like an embrace.

Copyright © 2013 by Diane Chamberlain Books, Inc. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

See links for reading guide questions (*spoiler alert!*)

Suggested by Members

Central to the story line is a discussion of the things we do in the name of social good.
by PEP2312 (see profile) 10/06/14

Should Mental challenged individuals have a right to choose sterilazation or not? Should they know about it or do parents and other asults have the right to take this choice away from them?
by Mjrock (see profile) 05/14/14

With birth control so easily obtained, why are there still so many unwanted pregnancies today?
by Patcochran1 (see profile) 01/21/14

What did you think of Mr. Gardiner's role in the petition for sterilization of Mary Ella and Ivy? Do you think that this situation would have been prevalent at the time?
Jane was very steadfast in her desire to work despite the lack of support from her husband. He insists she is selfish. What do you think drove Ivy to continue? What would you have done?
What do you think of the ongoing battle to provide restitution to the women still living who were unknowing victims of the Eugenics program?
by Lgriffies (see profile) 09/08/13

Is doing the right thing sometimes the wrong thing?
Were you aware of the Eugenics program? What are your thoughts about it?
7-Can a bureaucrat, an uninvolved administrator understand the needs of a client? Is more personal involvement required to make an adequate judgment as to that person’s needs?
by thewanderingjew (see profile) 09/03/13

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

"In this heart-wrenching historical fiction, prolific author Chamberlain focuses on a time in North Carolina’s history that most people would rather forget. It’s 1960, and Jane is a 21-year-old newlywed who’s just accepted a job as a social worker, though her husband, Robert, would rather she stay home like the other country club wives. Her clients—poor tobacco farmers in Grace County, like the Hart family—live in the harsh reality of the rural South, with too many mouths to feed and not much to feed them. Jane is eager to help, until she discovers that part of her job is deciding whether young girls like the vivacious Ivy Hart 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."--Publisher's Weekly

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