Saturday 5 May 2018

Before We Were Yours

Finished May 3
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

This novel is inspired by real events. The general historical story is true, but the characters in this book are not. However what happened to the historical characters here really happened to people and is a part of history that needs to be brought to light.
This novel has two timelines. One begins in 1939 and takes place mostly in Tennessee. It is the story of a poor family, who lived on a riverboat. Rill is the oldest child in the family and the narrator, and as her story begins, her mother Queenie is in labour. The labour is a difficult one, and the midwife says that it is beyond her skills. As Rill convinces her father Briney to take her mother to the hospital, she is left in charge of her younger siblings: Camellia, Fern, Lark, and her toddler brother Gabion. This family is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the children end up being taken from the boat under false pretences, and brought to an orphanage. Because most of this family is blond, they are more highly prized than some of their fellow victims.
As we see the terrible actions and conditions at the orphanage, and learn of the tactics involved, we understand and Rill, try as hard as she can, will not be able to keep her family together.
The true story of the society woman Georgia Tann, and her children's homes, which was supported by those in power for years, and had assistance from social agencies and lawmakers, is a terrible one. Hundreds of children were taken from their homes, and communities. Some were taken walking to school, some from their homes directly, but all were taken to group homes where they were abused, fed inadequately, and separated from their siblings. Many had loving parents that had no chance to recover their children against the powerful woman who had stolen them.
As Rill tries to fight for her siblings, and another young boy taken at the same time, she learns fear and distrust, and yearns for her river life.
In the present, another young woman, Avery Stafford, a lawyer and daughter of a senator in South Carolina, is home to support her father who is fighting a cancer diagnosis, and accusations of other types. Avery also takes the opportunity to visit her grandmother Judy, who has been placed in a secure care home as dementia gradually takes away her knowledge of the world around her. After a chance encounter with another nursing home resident, Avery begins to dig into both that woman's past and her own grandmother's to find out what connects the two.
This is a story that brings another sad historical experience to light, in a way that lets the reader experience the heartache and loss that these victims dealt with.
Highly recommended.


  1. I really want to read this one, but it's got like 100 holds on it at the library. Sigh. It'll be forever before it's my turn.

  2. Luckily my library is a smaller system, and I was able to get it without too long a wait. It's definitely worth reading.