Title: Before We Were Yours
Author: Lisa Wingate
Published: June 2017
Summary: In 1939 Memphis, Rill Floss and her four siblings are taken by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society after their mother is rushed from their river boat shanty to the hospital during a difficult birth. This fateful event changes the trajectory of their lives and generations to come. In present day South Carolina, Avery Stafford moves home to care for her ailing Senator father. Her time at home gives her a chance to dig deep into her family’s history and discover who she really is and what she really wants.
Thoughts: What a wonderful read this was. All four of us in our family book club gave this one two thumbs up. I know this is a book and a story that will stick with me for a long time and will be at the top of books I recommend to friends. For the first several chapters the author is giving you the lay of the land for both Rill’s and Avery’s stories and has you wondering how these two people are connected. Rill’s story is harrowing and compelling, and as my sister Janette pointed out, takes you to the edge of tragedy-you-can-handle before switching to Avery’s story. Rill is the oldest of her siblings trying mightily to be strong and keep her family together, but the atrocious acts of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society makes it really hard. This bit of the story is based on shockingly true events. A woman named Georgia Tann managed to orchestrate heinous crimes against children of impoverished families and then sell them to high society families. I had never heard of such a grim part of history, but Tann was said to be the mother of modern adoption, who destigmatized the adoption process for families of influence. She somehow was able to get law enforcement, hospitals, and political big wigs to be complicit in this wide-scale black market operation. It’s really heavy stuff, but like my sister said, Wingate does a wonderful job of not sugar coating a really awful situation, but also not making you sick to your stomach. My other sister, Erin, thought that the interjection of Avery’s “Hallmark” story helped with that endeavor. I have to agree. Juxtaposed with Rill’s really sad story, Avery’s was like a ray of sunshine. She is trying to uncover her family’s secret in a beach town with a bit of a romantic situation developing. It really is a great antidote to Rill’s story. I don’t want to sell Avery’s story short. I really liked reading her chapters, too. I love when a book has multiple perspectives that are done really well. At the end of a Rill chapter I was like, “NO!! Don’t stop there!!,” but then I would get caught up in the Avery chapter and enjoying her Hallmark romance. It’s always an impressive feat, in my opinion, when you enjoy all the narrating perspectives equally. Lisa Wingate is really successful at this in this book.
This book is beautifully written and hits all of your taste buds. It will shock you with how horrible the Tennessee Children’s Home Society is, it will warm your heart with the love that Rill has for her siblings, it will provide twists and turns that you don’t see coming, and it will challenge your emotions. One of the most difficult things I experienced emotionally when reading this book is trying to come to terms with how I felt about this whole messed up adoption scam. On one hand, it’s absolutely horrendous how these children were taken from their homes, sometimes right off their porch, and the tactics used to manipulate their vulnerable parents. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue that many of these children came from bad situations and were put into the homes of high society families who wanted them and could give them everything they needed. What’s clear is that what happened in those children’s homes is among the most despicable crimes I have ever heard of. This story is of a fictional family, but the way it is written it makes you feel like this is real. I know I will be thinking of the Floss children for a long time to come. I highly recommend you pick up this book–you won’t be disappointed.