It is 1960 in North Carolina and the lives of Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester couldn't be more different. Fifteen-year-old Ivy lives with her family as tenants on a small tobacco farm, but when her parents die, Ivy is left to care for her grandmother, older sister, and nephew. 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 is given the task of recommending which of her clients should be sterilized without their knowledge or consent. The state's rationalization is that if her clients are poor, or ill, or deemed in some way "unfit" they should not be allowed to have children. But soon Jane becomes emotionally invested in her clients' lives, causing tension with her new husband and her supervisors. No one understands why Jane would want to become a caseworker for the Department of Public Health when she could be a housewife and Junior League member. As Jane is drawn in by the Hart women, she begins to discover the secrets of the small farmsecrets much darker than she would have guessed. Soon, she must decide whether to take drastic action to help them, or risk losing a life-changing battle.
Necessary Lies is 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?
DIANE CHAMBERLAIN is the bestselling author of twenty-two novels published in more than eleven languages. She lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her shelties, Keeper and Cole.
JUNE 22, 2011
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.
“This enthralling novel transfixed me from the very first pages.” Christina Schwarz, New York Times bestselling author of Drowning Ruth
“Necessary Lies shines!” Lesley Kagen, New York Times bestselling author of Mare's Nest
“Expertly intertwines history and matters of the heart - love, loyalty and choosing what is right, no matter the consequences.” Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence & One Breath Away
“Diane Chamberlain's Necessary Lies is the most important book she has ever written.” Dorothea Benton Frank, New York Times bestselling author of Porch LightsIn this powerful novel, Chamberlain (Secrets She Left Behind) peels back the disturbing truths about the eugenics sterilization program implemented in North Carolina during the 1960s. Two voices reveal the heartbreak of the state-mandated program, which sterilized the mentally ill, African Americans, those with disabilities, and women on welfare. At 15, Ivy Hart does her best to hold together family life with her diabetic grandmother; her older sister, Mary Ella, who is mentally challenged; and Mary Ella's baby. They live and work as tenants on a tobacco farm in rural North Carolina. In 1960, Jane Forrester marries a doctor and, against his wishes, takes a job as a social worker with the Harts as clients. She's idealistic and shocked to learn that social workers have the power to petition to have clients sterilized. Jane narrates the story of two young women on a collision course with tragedy. VERDICT Chamberlain brings to light the horrors inflicted for years on victims of the eugenics sterilization program. By allowing Ivy and Jane to tell their stories, Chamberlain humanizes the survivors. This is a troubling account, considering how recently involuntary sterilization occurred in this country. Book groups and fans of Jodi Picoult should appreciate this work. [See Prepub Alert, 3/11/13; recently released, The First Lie (ISBN 9781466839403) is an e-original short story that introduces Ivy Hart at age 13.—Ed.]—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L., INAn idealistic North Carolina social worker defies her employers to save impoverished children from overzealous social engineering in Chamberlain's well-researched page-turner. Chamberlain's author's notes point out that from 1929 to 1975, North Carolina's state-fostered Eugenics Sterilization Program sterilized thousands of women and men. Her novel, set in 1960, examines the impact of such interventions on a tiny, almost feudal enclave of tobacco farmers. Two narrators represent opposite poles of Southern society. Against the wishes of her doctor husband, Jane Forrester, a recent college graduate, has taken a job in Raleigh with the Department of Public Welfare. Ivy Hart, 15, is struggling to keep what is left of her family intact. Her father, Percy, was killed in an agricultural accident. Davison Gardiner, who owns the farm where the white Harts, and their black neighbors, the Jordans, live and work, allows Ivy, her diabetic grandmother, and her beautiful and mentally challenged sister, Mary Ella, to continue occupying their shack rent-free. Gardiner regularly supplements their paltry wages (and welfare checks) with food donations, presumably out of guilt over Percy's accident, although Ivy's mother, who is institutionalized, scarred Gardiner's wife in a fit of rage and grief. As the Harts' newest caseworker, Jane soon finds herself in an ethical quagmire. At DPW's instigation, Mary Ella, mother of 2-year-old William (father unknown), was involuntarily sterilized in the hospital after his birth. Ivy is sneaking out at night to meet Gardiner's son, Henry Allen. By the time Jane realizes that Ivy is several months pregnant, she has succumbed to departmental pressure to petition for Ivy's sterilization on the grounds of childhood epilepsy and low IQ. Once Ivy delivers her child, she will suffer the same fate as her sister, unless Jane is willing to buck the system at the expense of her career. The stakes mount to dizzying heights (even for such an isolated pocket, Gardiner's unbridled sway over his tenants seems extreme); Chamberlain certainly knows how to escalate tension. Socially conscious melodrama at its best.