Book Review: Necessary Lies

Book Review: Necessary Lies

A review of Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

I’m going to cut right to the chase and tell you I loved this book and think you will, too!

Necessary Lies is a historical fiction novel (my favorite genre) set in rural North Carolina in 1960.

You can’t help but love the two female protagonists:

Jane is a spirited, young social worker who finds herself in over her head with a challenging caseload and little support. Jane speaks her mind and delicately challenges issues of race and gender in the 60’s. She has a huge heart and strong sense of what’s right. While she isn’t the best social worker, I’d definitely want Jane fighting for me!

Ivy is desperately in need of love and guidance when Jane takes over her case. Her family has lived as impoverished tenant farmers for generations, with little hope for anything more. At 15 years old, Ivy’s taking care of her ailing grandmother, mentally ill sister, and nephew, while working on a tobacco farm to earn their keep.

The author, Diane Chamberlain, is a former social worker herself. And her book is rich with themes of social justice, ethics, boundaries, transference and counter-transference, professional judgment, poverty and oppression. It would be great material to discuss in a social work class or supervision group.

I love historical fiction because I’m always learning something new about an interesting piece of history. Necessary Lies is about involuntary sterilization of the “mentally defective and feebleminded” – something I knew nothing about. It was fascinating and horrifying at the same time.

Necessary Lies kept me entertained, learning, and cheering for the characters right until the end. My sister, who isn’t a social worker, highly recommended this book, but I think social workers will have an extra level of interest. I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think.



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Sharon Martin has a passion for clinical supervision, mentoring new social workers, blogging, and reading all things social work related. She is a California Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 20 years in the field. Sharon has worked extensively in Bay Area non-profits and successfully runs a private counseling practice in San Jose. Sharon writes regularly for PsychCentral and the Good Men Project. She's also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism.

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