Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours
By Lisa Wingate
Published: June 6, 2017

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

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.

My review:

Rill Foss grew up on the river with her parents and younger siblings. It wasn't always easy but they were happy. Then when her mom has difficulty giving birth, her parents leave for the hospital, putting Rill in charge. The next morning their boat is boarded by authorities and Rill and her siblings are taken to the orphanage. At first Rill thinks that her parents will come for her when they leave the hospital but then she finds out what really goes on at the orphanage. 

Avery Stafford is the daughter of a politician and she is being groomed for political life herself. When she makes a visit with her dad to a nursing home, she meets a new resident named May who insists that Avery's bracelet that once belonged to her grandmother is actually hers. Avery starts investigating her family history and finds out secrets that could change the way her family is viewed.

Before We Were Yours is told from the viewpoints of Rill (in the past) and Avery and May in present day. Usually when I read a book with dual timelines I find the historical story to be more interesting than the modern day one and that is the case here as well. Rill's situation is heartbreaking and the parts of the book in her POV are the strongest and most engaging. In contrast Avery's story is lackluster. I wished the story had just been told from Rill's perspective as a historical novel with an epilogue for modern day. Towards the end I felt that Rill's story was wrapped up too quickly so that we can return to the present storyline. Avery is not as compelling a character and after reading about Rill's hardship, it wasn't easy to  care about Avery's problems. There is also a forced romance that didn't work for me. 

Before I read this book I hadn't heard of the Tennessee Children's Home Society or Georgia Tann. She was an evil woman. In addition to kidnapping or coercing/tricking parents into giving up rights to their children, she also had connections in powerful places and she'd do her best to make sure birth parents couldn't find their kids again, even changing their names. The orphanage abused the kids in its' care and some even died. I won't say more so I don't spoil the story but I was surprised by how this was going on so long (till 1950).

Overall I liked the this book in spite of my issues with the contemporary part of the story because the historical part was so good. I know my views are in the minority so other readers may enjoy the book even more than I did.  While the publishers are marketing this as a book for readers of The Nightingale, that novel sets the bar pretty high and this doesn't quite work as a readalike. I'd suggest Before We Were Yours to fans of Lisa Wingate, Susan Meissner or Christian historical fiction in general.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss.

1 comment:

  1. I think this would work much better as a readalike for the Orphan Train by Christina Kline Baker which I thought was pretty good but like you I was way more interested in the past storyline than the present one.


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