I read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate at the suggestion of a distant Martin Cousin, Glenda K. Thanks, Glenda, for this excellent recommendation.
Before We Were Yours is one of those novels with two story lines going one; one is in the present and one is on the past.
The present story
The present story is about Avery, a young lawyer, who begins researching her grandmother’s past in order to resolve some things that don’t add up. She discovers that her grandmother, Judy, was one of seven children born to Queenie and Briny, a poor couple in Depression-era Tennessee. The children are all stolen from the parents by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society who basically sells the children to wealthy people who are led to believe all the children they offer were given up willingly or were orphaned.
The past story
The story from the past is told by the about 12-year old Rill, who is the oldest of Queenie and Briny’s children. She and her next four siblings are taken to a home where they stay while waiting to be adopted. The two youngest siblings were recently born twins that were taken directly from the hospital to a different location than Rill and the others.
Rill and her siblings are given new names; hers is May. One by one, Rill’s siblings are adopted out, or relocated to another location, until there is only Rill and her young sister, Fern, are left. Fern is adopted, but cries so much for Rill/May that the couple adopts her, too.
Rill, desperate to get back to her real world, runs away and takes Fern with her. What Rill finds, though, is that that world no longer exists. Eventually she and Fern return to their adoptive parents who learn of what happened to the girls’ original family and about the truth behind the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. May becomes ‘May’ and leaves Rill behind. There is no choice.
The two stories intertwine
Avery discovers that her grandmother, Judy, and some of Judy’s sisters reunited after years of searching. The sisters had a bond that kept them close to each other until sickness intervened. Avery is instrumental in bringing the remaining sisters back together.
This is a simple synopsis of the story, believe me.
Why I recommend Before We Were Yours
Before We Were Yours is one of those novels that sticks with you. It is fiction, but based on facts. The Tennessee Children’s Home Society did indeed exist; and Georgia Tann, the operator, was a ruthless woman. Here’s a link about the society. Rill and her family are not factual but could have been. They are representative of what happened to children who were stolen away.
The things that struck me in Before We Were Yours were the naivety of some of the characters and the evil of others, how the different children at the home responded to the situation, and the change in Rill/May from being a loving and happy girl to an untrusting and beaten-down adult in a kid’s body. The story is still with me. Even though it’s not true, it makes me think of the children that were actually taken by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, especially children like Rill/May who were old enough to know they’d been stolen away. I suspect this book will never leave me.
What have you read lately that stuck with you? I’m always open to suggestions for my next read.
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