Published by Ballantine Books on 06/06/2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
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For readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale comes a “thought-provoking [and] complex tale about two families, two generations apart . . . based on a notorious true-life scandal.”*
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 the dark truth. 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 to 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—Lisa 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.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a phenomenal novel worth reading at least once.
Before We Were Yours follows the gripping and soul-crushing account of five siblings who have been taken in by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society to be placed for adoption in the post-WWII era, while simultaneously telling the present-day story of Avery Stafford, an attorney with political routes who discovers quite by accident there is more to her family than she ever knew.
It is really difficult to wrap my head around just how much I enjoyed this story. Lisa Wingate paints a vivid picture of the 30s and the socio-economic troubles that befall poor families in the Deep South. Money solves problems. Problems like where you can live, what you eat…not having your children stolen from you under the guise of law. I became fully-invested in the lives of each character, but especially 12-year-old Rill Foss. I wanted to jump into the pages and be her champion, her protector, as much as she wanted to shield her brother and sisters from the horrors that befell them. I did not connect with Avery (our second narrator) as much, but I don’t think I was supposed to.
Speaking of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, I had never heard of it, nor of the real-life scandal it created in Tennessee society. Before We Were Yours sent me on a googling spree to find out as much as I could about the real-life Georgia Tanner and orphanage. Reading the accounts and watching the videos from victims on Youtube was horrifying and it is just astonishing that these things have taken place in America.
This is not a story for the faint of heart. Before We Were Yours is uncompromising in its storytelling. This is not a story where the reader is given a happily-ever-after, because real life, and the very real lives of the children who became part of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, is not always so kind.
But you’ll love it. And your heart will still squeeze in happiness once you reach the last page.