Title: Before We Were Yours
Author: Lisa Wingate
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publishing Date: June 6, 2017
About the Book:
Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.
Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. 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.
Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.
I have heard so many great things about this book before I even picked it up. I knew that it was a Goodreads Choice Award winner in 2017 for Historical Fiction. I’ve had it on my TBR pile for a while now but I was finally able to pick it up from the library this week. I’m so glad that I did!
This wasn’t what you might call a “fluffy bunnies” story. Several events will make your heart hurt. Many of the abuses the children faced are more “insinuated” than shared explicitly, but the author does an excellent job of expressing that the children’s lives at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis were less than humane. It doesn’t take much to get inside Rill’s mind and understand the heartache she faces in not only keeping her siblings together, but safe. The weight of the world was on a 12-year-old’s shoulders.
What’s most appalling is that if you read the Author’s Note at the end of the book (which I highly recommend), you’ll discover that although this story is fictional, the Tennessee Children’s Home Society was not. Nor were some of the people who ran the homes. Georgia Tann was a real woman who was initially praised as the face that changed how the world viewed children who were orphans until her true practices came to light. More of her story can be read in the notes.
I believe the author tastefully yet truthfully shared the essence of the heartbreak that many of the children who went through the homes experienced. By splitting the book into a split timeline, she was also able to share how their experiences shaped the next generations. As Avery uncovers secrets to her grandmother’s past and discovers connections to another elderly woman she’s recently met, she goes on a mission for answers. Throughout the book the question is posed if it’s better or not to know the truth when it’s painful and can alter your very view of the world.
This was a very powerful read and I highly recommend it!
Age Appropriateness: As I mentioned above, many of the abuses that the children faced were “insinuated” more than they were described explicitly, but that doesn’t mean that they are totally absent. There is one instance that suggest a child is sexually abused, and another where an attempt occurs. There are references to children being beaten although no actual “beating scenes.” More than an actual age restriction, I think it’s more important to suggest that this is more for “mature” readers. I say this, because I can see one of my young sister-in-laws (15) reading this, but I know others close to her age that I might not recommend it to. It’s not explicit, but it’s a very emotional read.