Book Review: Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain


This was a wonderful book that covers the very controversial topic of the North Carolina Eugenics Program which lasted until the 1970s; longer than any other state in the nation.  I had mixed emotions throughout this entire book. On the one hand, I was not opposed to the option of sterilization, especially for those women who wanted it, could not care for the children they already had, or had limited capacity to care for children. On the other hand, a government sponsored sterilization program should not be abused and in the case of the Hart sisters, it most definitely was. I highly recommend this book and I understand why so many book clubs have picked this up.

If you’ve read my reviews before, you know that I have five required criteria in order to earn the coveted 5-star review on Goodreads. This book definitely has all five.

  1. Characters- I have to be attached to the characters. From the very beginning I loved these characters; Jane with her naive expectations of life and the world, Ivy with her independent yet care-giving spirit, Mary Ella with her simple-mindedness and innocence. I instantly wanted good things to happen to these characters, and was sad when I immediately saw that it was not a guarantee, or even a likelihood.
  2. Research- Diane Chamberlain definitely did her research when writing this book. The Eugenics Program in North Carolina was a devastating time for families, and many were unaware that they were even affected by it. A story like this can only be told with accuracy. Blending history with just the right amount of fiction went a long way in making the story believable and the characters realistic.
  3. Story- Anything that can make you cry, scream, curse, and laugh all at the same time is worthy to be considered a good story. This book was a page turner from the very beginning and I could not put it down. When I stay up until 1am just to finish, you’ve certainly earned a seat at the table of “good stories.”
  4. Writing- Chamberlain is a great writer. The story opens with an interesting present-day character, Brenna, and closes with her story while in between reverting back and forth between Jane’s and Ivy’s perspectives. There were not too many characters to keep track of, I always knew where I was in the story and never felt confused, and more importantly, the story flowed together in a way that felt superbly natural.
  5. Relevance- I usually don’t put any of these criteria in any particular order, but for this book, I’d say relevance is the most important criteria that it meets. This story is extremely relevant today because these problems have not gone away. Sure the Eugenics Board no longer exists, and the victims of the program have been since compensated by the North Carolina government, but that does not mean the problems of this story have been solved. Far from it! We still have a welfare program which is both abused by many families across the country, and not available to others who need it. There is a huge divide between classes, and the middle-class is getting poorer, tightening the gap between it and the poor while the upper class continues to grow exponentially. There are still hundreds of social workers who use the system as a crutch to get out of helping the truly needy, and not enough Janes who care “too much” and actually attempt to make a difference. This story carries a message; that one person can make a difference, and it does not matter who you care about, but care. And care enough to make that difference.

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