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.
I’d say a 3.5 out of 5 stars.
I knew about Georgia Tann (thanks Unsolved Mysteries!!), but this book really drives the awfulness home. It also had tidbits that I didn’t know, so that was interesting. The only issue I had with her section was that it was unrelenting horror. Which was the point, so I guess that’s a good thing.
To be honest, it really doesn’t carry that sense of loss and pain into Rill’s adult life. A second book following her into adulthood and her search for family would be great. The book seemed to close up with a rush and left a lot to wonder about. I just really wish we had more information about everything. This is so hard to write without spoliers!
The other main character, Avery, is a bit annoying but her story is okay. I would have liked to spend more time on her search instead of her worrying about if she wants to be a politician. Also, her obsession with people knowing her last name and treating her differently made me laugh. Your daddy may be a senator but did he play football, Avery? It’s a real thing, sure, but her attitude about it struck me as funny.
This novel covers a very important (and hushed up) time in history. Joan Crawford adopted her children from Georgia Tann. People should read it, then read more about the whole shenanigan, and then give past US authorities some serious side eye.
Before We Were Yours has some weaknesses. Avery is a snoozefest and I was left dying for information about what happened when the ‘orphans’ became adults. And why did Big Trent hate his dad so much? Why is Jonah given such a weird backstory? But its strengths greatly outweigh the weaknesses. Wingate hits every awful thing that could have happened to a Tann child and I don’t think I’ll ever forget reading Rill’s story. Read it.