Title: Necessary Lies
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Page Count: 343 pages
Genre: Domestic Fiction
Tone: Compelling, Haunting
Set in the 1960s, the little-known North Carolina’s Eugenics Sterilization Program is brought to light as twenty-two year old Jane Forrester defies societal pressure and begins work as a social worker. Although they seem worlds apart, she becomes linked with fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart as both are haunted by tragedy and are confronted with the question, “How can you know what you believe is right, when everyone is telling you it’s wrong?”
SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.
The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement: 2017 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.
1. In the first chapter, a woman named finds “Ivy & Mary was here” carved in the wall. Where did you think this book was going?
2. Initially we are introduced to Jane, a young woman who is getting married and is applying for a job as a social worker. What did you think about her? Did you find her character relatable?
3. What were your initial thoughts of Robert? Did you feel the same way about him throughout the book?
4. Robert desperately wants Jane to fit in, why do you think that is?
5. Out of Ivy, Nonni, Mary Ella, and baby William, who did you find to be the most sympathetic? The most interesting?
6. If you believe that Mary Ella was mentally challenged, do you think it was in Mary Ella’s best interest to have the procedure?
7. What did you think of Nonni’s ability to raise the family?
8. What did you think of Baby Williams care?
9. Did you think that Baby William should be taken away?
10. Mr. Gardiner did not want the police coming out to look for baby William (he said this was “private farm business”). Why?
11. Initially we did not know who Baby William’s father was, although fingers pointed to Eli. Did you believe that or did you have other theories?
12. Were you surprise Eli was Mary Ella’s brother?
13. How could you compare the Jordan family to the Harts? Which family was better off?
14. Lita had 4 sons and a daughter. People said all her children had a different daddy. Did that line in the book leave you with preconceived notions of her?
15. Why did you think Lita sent Sheena away?
16. What did you initially think of Henry Allen’s relationship with Ivy? Did your perspective change?
17. Jane did not love the idea of eugenics and she definitely didn’t want to do it behind her clients back. In response to this, the director said “your self-righteousness is getting in the way of your duty to your clients.” What did you think of his comment?
18. Mary Ella wanted more children. She had no idea she had been sterilized. Jane decided to tell Mary Ella that she had been sterilized. Should she have? Why/Why not?
19. Why did Mary walk in front of Mr. Gardiner’s truck?
20. Do you think Ivy would be a legitimate candidate for the procedure?
21. When Ivy is told that she is pregnant she is please by this news after the shock. She says, “thank God for this little baby”. What did you think of her reaction?
22. What did you think of Henry Allen’s reaction to the pregnancy?
23. It seems the only real difference between Henry Allen and Ivy was a class distinction. Do you think things would have worked out differently if they were both of the same socioeconomic background?
24. There was a lot that come out at Mary Ella’s funeral. What did you think when Eli disclosed that Mr. Gardiner was Baby William’s and Rodney’s father?
25. What did you think of Jane taking Ivy to her home?
26. Why was the social worker, Paula, so insistent on finding Ivy and prosecuting Jane?
27. A side story was Jane’s relationship with Lois Parker. What drew her to Lois? What did you think about their relationship?
28. How did you like the ending?
Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!
Readers’ Guide for Necessary Lies.
Discussion Questions written by Tosa Book Club
Discussion experience by Whitney Book Bistroy
Book Reporter’s compilation of readers’ comments
“Victims of State Sterilization Tell Their Story” (video)
Interview with Diane Chamberlain
“Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States”