Monday, June 17, 2013

A Chilling Example of Abuse of Power

Fifteen-year-old Ivy wanders home early one morning to find her older sister, Mary Ella, having a baby. Even worse, she's told by the social worker, Mrs. Werkman, that Mary Ella has appendicitis so she'll have to have the baby in the hospital so her appendix can be removed.

At fifteen, Ivy finds herself virtually in charge of the family. Her grandmother, Nonnie, is diabetic, but insists on eating sugar whenever she can get her hands on it. No one knows who the father of Mary Ella's baby is, but they're hoping it's not Eli, the black boy who lives with his family in the other cabin on the Gardiner's tobacco farm. Ivy's only relief are her meeting with Henry Allen, the son of the farm owner, and people worry that she'll go too far and end up like Mary Ella with an illegitimate child.

This is a story of the helplessness of people on welfare, particularly children and young adults. They are at the mercy of what the social workers thinks is appropriate, and what she can convince the child's guardian to agree to. It's chilling, particularly since the story is set in North Carolina in the early sixties when the state ran a eugenics program to sterilize those considered unfit. 

Chamberlin did an excellent job showing us likable people caught in a difficult situation. Although the eugenics program was a bad idea, she shows it in an even handed way. Some women benefited from the free sterilization. They didn't want more children and the procedure allowed them to take better care of their families. However, it crossed the line when dealing with young women, some as young as twelve, eliminating all choice for their future as wives and mothers.

I highly recommend this book. It's an enjoyable read: well researched
and well written. Because the characters are so real, it sticks with you and makes you think about how giving an organization too much power leads to terrible abuse.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.