☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars ☆➹⁀☆☆
What it’s about:
Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story.
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 is an emotional read. It is especially poignant given that it is based on historical events. Two narrators tell the story in different time periods; the story lines eventually intersect.
Ms. Wingate’s story is powerful. Her twelve-year-old narrator, Rill Foss tells the heart-wrenching story of the impact of the Georgia Tann/Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal on her family. Juxtaposed to the abject poverty of the depression-era Foss family is the present day affluence of the Stafford family. While Avery Stafford is being groomed to follow in her family’s political footsteps as well as become the perfect southern wife, she is busy discovering her grandmother’s secrets. Along the way, Avery discovers a few things about herself, the person she wants to be, and the sort of person who deserves her partnership in life.
I loved Rill Foss’ story. Life on the river is simple, but her loving parents make it seem grand for her and her siblings. It is a compelling tale not only of family but also a widely unknown part of the Great Depression. I found present-day Avery Stafford’s story less interesting primarily because I would have expected a former federal prosecutor to have more sleuthing and deducing skills. Avery spends a lot of time perplexed by the evasive answers she receives from her grandmother and a mysterious senior in a nursing home. Avery also spends a great deal of time passively pondering her engagement to her childhood friend. I found this well-educated woman of means to be highly frustrating even though I know Avery’s story is drawn out to allow sufficient time for the Foss family drama to play out. It is not until Avery meets Trent Jr. that the modern day suspense builds to the point of almost equaling the heart-wrenching 1939 saga.
The historic facts are well researched, and the plot flows easily. The meddling moms are a fun addition to the modern day story. Fact and fiction are wonderfully woven together, and Ms. Wingate provides several research resources for readers who would like to investigate the historical aspects of this book further. Before We Were Yours is ultimately redemptive, but the book as a whole is sad and mournful. The story continues to haunt me, and I’m sure Before We Were Yours will long be a book I use as a comparison for future reads. #MustRead2018
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