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.
Before We Were Yours is an intriguing novel that started a little slow but carried on to effectively mix historical facts with interesting fictional characters. This resulted in a riveting story which is emotional at times and disturbing and shocking at others.
The children’s home featured in this novel, the Tennessee Children’s Home Orphanage, and one of the characters within it (Georgia Tan) are based on true stories which – horribly – actually happened. It made me want to find out more about this after finishing the novel, and though the subject matter is bleak at the best of times, I really enjoy books when I know there’s some truthful / real life element to them.
The novel focuses on two time periods – the present day, and 1939 – and, therefore, two different sets of characters. On the whole the 1930s setting was more interesting to read about, but the present day setting and character of Avery herself was easier to read and identify with, perhaps because it is just that – a present day, more ‘normal’ setting.
I actually found the novel a little slow at first; I remember being just under 25% through when I suddenly found myself really drawn in, because in the first quarter I didn’t really care about Rill and the other characters, from either storyline. I couldn’t really feel Rill’s horror at being taken from her parents – she seemed hugely upset, certainly, but sometimes her emotions fell a little flat, like when some of her brothers/ sisters are taken away from her. However, as you get to know them all better, the plot came alive for me and the horrible situation of the Tennessee’s Children Home Orphanage – though horrible to read and think about – made for some very interesting, absorbing reading.
The desire to know how people may or may not be connected to each other is what really made this novel for me. I felt strongly about most of the characters, whether I was rooting for them or really hated them, and this is a testament to Lisa Wingate’s writing!
Overall, an engaging and interesting read.
Many thanks to Quercus and Netgalley for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.