Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate– 352 pages
Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shanty boat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty. Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation . . . or redemption.
My Review: 4.5 stars
Before We Were Yours is an utterly satisfying story that sheds light on the horrific child trafficking and adoption scheme that took place in 1930s Tennessee. I had absolutely no clue that this was part of our American history. Cameron Wright’s novel, The Orphan Keeper, confirmed this happened in India, but I’ve learned now, it can happen anywhere.
Wingate takes us to this time period while the reader becomes smitten and emotionally involved with Rill and her siblings. We see they are cared for and loved, while being stone cold poor. They live off the river for their food as well as a means of bringing in income. It’s through these curly blonde siblings that we meet Georgia Tann, the elitist owner and cruel imposter at The Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
Alternatively, there’s another storyline that focuses on Avery, a young go-getter who is learning that she may be pushing herself into a life that isn’t her dream, but her parent’s dream instead. These current day characters allowed the mystery at hand to unfold at a good pace.
The dual storyline style of writing was necessary to the plot for a dose of lightness amid the darkness of Rill’s story. They were knitted beautifully together to tell us a story about the strength of family bonds, that buried lies will always surface and that love will always trump hate. This is the type of novel that begs you to research more about adoption laws, the people who ran this one until it closed in 1950 and compare them to now. I have no doubt this book will be a runaway hit and for sure satisfy book clubs with a great book to discuss.
I’ve included a photo of Georgia Tann as well as some facts I learned in my research:
- Mary Tyler Moore won an Emmy for her portrayal of Georgia Tann in the 1993 movie, Stolen Babies.
- Joan Crawford’s twin girls were adopted from Tann.
- Georgia Tann was known for inventing modern day adoption.
- Author Pearl Buck asked her to collaborate on a book about adoption.
Quotes I liked:
We plan our days, but we don’t control them.”
-“The argument ends where all arguments do—on the altar of compromise.”
-“I want a pain I understand.”
-“But the love of sisters needs no words. It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof. It runs as deep as a heartbeat.”
-“A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to new music if she chooses. Her own music.”