Lisa Wingate’s historical fiction novel Before We Were Yours follows two families, one in the present day and one in 1939. In 1939, the Foss family lives on a shantyboat moving along the Mississippi River, until the mother is forced to be brought to the hospital by their father in Memphis, Tennessee leaving their five children behind. The eldest child Rill is left in charge of taking care of the others until their shantyboat is raided by the police and they are brought to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Here they are promised that they will be returned to their family, but they soon find that there was never had any intention of returning them. Rill fights to keep her family together in the nightmare conditions of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. During the present day Avery Stafford moves back to Aiken, South Carolina. Her father is a Senator and she has a successful career as a lawyer. During a visit to a nursing home Avery meets an elderly woman when she grabs onto her and calls her by a name she has never heard before. Is the woman just calling her Fern because of dementia or is there truth behind her confusion?
Before We Were Yours is a gripping novel filled with mystery. I forgot that it was historical fiction until I was about a third of the way through. Finding this out made it even better, it when from a mystery/horror to a novel based off of real events. While the novel is mostly fiction drawing its tales from the survivors of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society it doesn’t seem implausible like historical fiction tends to be. Really the most implausible thing that happens is that Avery just happens to run into May. There is some romance in the book but it was a little strange and unnecessary to the plot.
I was stunned to learn about this part of American history. It’s appalling that Georgia Tann would kidnap children off the streets and even from their own yards. She had paperwork given to women just coming out of anesthesia, saything that it was just routine paperwork when really they were surrendering their children to her. Children who she took to the orphanage to sell to wealthy and influential families, but only after giving them new names and pasts to make them more appealing to their potential families. How sad it is that some of these kids either were too young to even know their family before or were old enough to remember but never saw their biological family again. There may have been cases were kid were taken from families who truely did not want them, but it’s hard to know how often this happened due to the paperwork being destroyed or hard to follow for a number of reasons.
Before We Were Yours is a great historical fiction novel for those who are looking for a good mystery along with those who are looking to see what people are willing to do for money. All in all, this book was a quick and wonderful read, that once I started I didn’t want to put down.