Book Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Before We Were Yours is based on the true story of the mistreatment, abuse and neglect of 'orphans' by the Tenessee Children's Home Society, under the 'guidance' of Georgia Tann. While the characters in the novel are fictional, their stories represent a few of the estimated 5,000 children were stolen between 1924 and 1950 by the Society. It has been alleged that as many as 500 children died under Georgia Tann's 'care.'
Avery Stafford is a successful lawyer who has been called back to home to be groomed as the family's next senator 'just in case' her father's cancer treatment doesn't go to plan. Not only is her father facing a life-threatening illness, but her beloved grandmother's dementia has is getting worse and she has recently been moved to the finest aged care facility that their money can buy. Her father's enemies will do anything to make this go public as there has been a recent scandal with the mismanagement of funds and mistreatment of elderly patients in aged care facilities. The problem? Her father was friends with the owner.
Add to the pressure of avoiding scandal and dealing with the fallout, Avery is engaged and both her mother and her future mother-in-law are chomping at the bit to begin to plan the biggest and fanciest southern wedding of all. Avery isn't even sure that she WANTS to be married.
May Crandall has been moved into an aged care facility even though she would love nothing better than to be near her beloved river. She is getting tired and confused. She mistakes Avery for Fern, a person from her past, when Avery is making a public appearance at the facility.
Rill Foss is the princess of Arcadia. Her mother is the Queen and her father, the King. She and the rest of the princesses and prince live on the river. They don't have much, but they have each other and they are happy. Until one night, things don't go according to plan and her mother and father have to leave Arcadia. Rill soon finds out there was a reason why her father wanted to keep them isolated from others.
Where they are staying is a dangerous place for blonde, blue-eyed children to be left alone.
I was a bit bored at the start by Avery's chapters and waited impatiently to get to Rill's story. Though the further I got, the more nervous I got at the end of Avery's chapters, not wanting to know what awful things the children would have to endure next.
The worst thing about it? It actually happened. The author's note at the back explains that she based the events off all the recorded stories of what happened at the Tenessee Children's Home Society and it's various locations, boarding houses and such. While some children were legitimate orphans and may have gone to a better home, there were thousands that were kidnapped from loving parents, stolen from mothers who had just given birth and with papers changed and parents not understanding what they were signing, paper trails and the actual birth name and date of many of the children were never uncovered. There was also scandal involved as Georgia Tann had so many powerful people in her back pocket and most likely had organised adoptions for a few of them that they would want to keep the details hidden.
Through corruption, adoptions were ruled to be legitimate (what the?) and record were sealed. Unbelievably, the records were only unsealed in 1995, too late for most of the 'orphans' to ever find peace and to relocate their birth parents/families.
The story of the Foss children is haunting and through the dual perspectives, the author was able to show how the ramifications of the children's past were still affecting them and their families and their family's family to this present day.
Avery as a character grew on me throughout the story and while the nature of the abuse and mistreatment that occurred was horrific, I loved seeing how the family handled their past and the positives that came from it (without going into spoilers, this is all I can say).
This book touches on a forgotten piece of history and certainly opened my eyes to something I probably would not have known about otherwise.
An often harrowing, sad read that ends on a hopeful note.
Also on another note, it won the Goodreads Historical Fiction Award for 2017, so there is quite a few of you out there who read and loved it as well!
2018 Reading Challenges:
This one only counted towards the obligatory GR reading goal (on the road to 100!).
Have you read Before We Were Yours? Does the fact that it won the Historical Fiction award for the GR awards in 2017 influence you picking this up? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.