Ivy Hart and Jane Forrester are separate people with separate lives going in separate directions until their paths cross in 1960 on a tobacco farm in North Carolina. Jane is the freshman social worker assigned to watch out for the welfare of Ivy’s family who are all tenants on the tobacco farm. Jane feels very out of her league as she struggles with trying to help Ivy (who battles epilepsy), Ivy’s aging grandmother (who is growing weaker with each passing year), Ivy’s older sister (who battles mental illness), and Ivy’s nephew (who is always getting into mischief, the way toddlers do). To make matters more complicated on the farm, with so many teenagers and young adults living in such close quarters, the matter of a child being born out of wedlock into a tumultuous environment is not a matter of if, but when. Despite Jane’s new husband’s disapproval of breaking traditional roles expected of the wife of a physician, she forges her own way which takes her down an unconventional path of guardianship over and eventual friendship with her clients. When Jane discovers a disturbing, yet acceptable, policy among social workers of the time, she faces a moral dilemma that will either break her or break the family that has placed their trust (and love) in her. What she chooses to do next will change her life, and the lives of everyone in the family, forever.
Why I read it: Recommendation in an online book group
Trigger warnings: elective sterilization, unexpected death
I loved this book. I loved how the author developed each character and helped the reader understand the complicated relationship between each of them. They all needed something from each other, and they all provided each other with something only they could give. Jane not only provided services for the family, but she also provided the family with a glimpse of “the outside.” Each member of the family taught Jane lessons about herself and the ways of the world that she would have never learned by only spending her time with members of the upper echelon of society.
Also, I had no idea that there was even such a thing as the Eugenics Sterilization Program. To say I was horrified would be putting it mildly. I ended up going down a rabbit hole the night that I finished the book as I researched more about this horrific program. This. Actually. Happened. I almost read this book as a cautionary tale; what happens to us as a species when we try to control the outcome of a person’s life? What do we devalue in the process of trying to intervene even though our intentions might be good?
This book followed a logical progression of events, and it flowed very well. The characters were relatable and realistic. It was one of those books that stays with you long after you finish.