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Book Review: Before We Were Yours

by | Jun 8, 2023 | Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Age Rating: 14+

Ready to be captivated by a tale that not only entertains but also unveils a dark chapter in history? Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours is an exciting mix of drama, suspense, and history that’ll grab your attention right from the start.

This compelling tale intertwines the stories of two families from different eras: a serene riverside setting in 1930s Memphis, Tennessee, and a fast-paced modern world in South Carolina. As the narratives of these contrasting families converge, you’ll be moved by the profound connection they share.

The plot draws you in, vividly illustrating how our personal history shapes our identity and how, regardless of where life leads us, our hearts forever remember their roots. Before We Were Yours goes beyond being a compelling read. It uncovers the disturbing truth about one of America’s darkest secrets – a horrifying child trafficking operation run by Georgia Tann. The narrative boldly forces us to confront the harsh realities of a time marred by deception and gross misuse of power.

What makes Wingate’s work shine is its capacity to craft a story that triggers deep reflection on family bonds, identity, and the endurance of the human spirit. So gear up to immerse yourself in this striking narrative that promises to leave a lasting impression.

Before We Were Yours Summary

Before We Were Yours is a heart-wrenching story of two families from different generations whose lives are deeply impacted by the sinister actions of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

The story begins in 1939 Memphis, introducing us to twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her siblings, who lead a serene life on their Mississippi River shanty boat. Their peaceful existence is upended when their parents must abruptly leave, placing Rill in charge.

The situation takes a tragic turn when the children are forcibly taken from their home and sent to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. In this hostile place, Rill bravely battles to keep her siblings safe under the harsh rule of the heartless director.

The story then transitions to present-day South Carolina, introducing Avery Stafford, a successful federal prosecutor from a wealthy family. A family health crisis leads Avery to unsettling discoveries about her family’s past, sparking a journey through a history tainted by lies. This journey could lead to life-altering truths.

Drawing inspiration from one of America’s dark scandals, this book illuminates a grim historical period of child exploitation. Amid this darkness, it emphasizes the unbreakable bond between the heart and its true origins.

Tennessee Children’s Home Society

The Tennessee Children’s Home Society was a real organization that operated from the 1920s to the 1950s. Georgia Tann, the founder of this infamous society, was a woman who knew how to manipulate the system. Behind a mask of a child welfare advocate, Tann was a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Tann would tear children away from disadvantaged families, promising their parents better futures for their kids. She would then sell these children to wealthy families, sometimes for as much as $10,000. She stayed in power by bribing officials who should have been safeguarding these children.

The living conditions in the Tennessee Children’s Home Society were terrible. Children were often malnourished, physically abused, and subjected to medical experimentation. Tann and her staff would often administer drugs to the children to keep them sedated and compliant. Many children were given false identities, which made it nearly impossible to reconnect with their biological families later in life.

Tann didn’t stop at child trafficking; she also propagated racial discrimination. She strictly denied adopting children into families of color, causing siblings to be split up and placed in unfamiliar cultural environments.

Tann’s wicked reign concluded in the late 1940s when her deeds were exposed, resulting in the organization’s closure. Although Tann escaped legal punishment by passing away shortly after, the repercussions of her actions still echo today. Adoptees continue to search for their biological families, trying to piece together the jigsaw puzzle of their true identities.

The chilling story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society serves as a crucial reminder of ethical adoption practices’ importance. It highlights the necessity to shield those most vulnerable from such severe exploitation and abuse. This piece of history provides a lesson of resilience and strength, even amidst horrible adversity.

My Review

Before We Were Yours is a haunting and beautifully written novel that exposes a dark chapter in American history. The dual narratives create an engaging atmosphere of suspense that kept me hooked.

Wingate’s ability to craft raw and relatable characters is nothing short of mesmerizing. As their narratives unraveled, I felt a compelling connection to them that lingered.

I’m always interested in learning from historical fiction. This book uncovers a distressing and lesser-known piece of history, concentrating on the horrifying actions of Georgia Tann. The way it spotlighted the Tennessee Children’s Home Society’s grotesque truth was haunting.

It subtly insinuated the underlying horrors of child abuse, creating an unsettling but realistic portrayal rather than explicitly describing the atrocities. The book serves as a wake-up call, reminding us of the need to shield those at risk from such abhorrent misuses of power.

Wingate’s nuanced approach to exploring adoption further enhanced my respect for her storytelling. She navigated the emotional spectrum with a level of sensitivity that was touching. Through her layered portrayal of adoption, she managed to capture its many complexities with dignity and respect.

One of the most impactful elements of the book was the exploration of family, identity, and history’s place in shaping us. Rill’s experiences highlighted the heart-wrenching consequences of losing one’s family and the crucial significance of preserving personal identity.

Before We Were Yours is a must-read for those interested in American history, meaningful social justice narratives, or simply well-woven stories. Wingate’s engaging and thought-provoking writing, combined with relatable characters, ensures that this story will have a lasting impact.

If you found this review helpful, you can check out the book at Bookshop.org here and support local bookstores along the way!