Monday, April 30, 2018

Before We Were Yours. Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is the type of historical fiction I love. The main characters and stories are fiction, while the framework is based on true events.  The story centers on Georgia Tann’s black market adoption scheme. With the help of government officials and law enforcement, Tann had children removed from their homes, claiming their parents were unfit when, in reality, they were simply poor and unable to fight the system. Sometimes she even kidnapped children, especially if they were blond with blue-eyes. Tann managed to run her “orphanage,” the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, from 1924-1950, destroying an untold number of lives. The story clearly affected Lisa Wingate deeply. Before We Were Yours is a book that was written from the heart.

I had never heard of Georgia Tann or the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and am horrified that such a scheme could continue for so long. I plan to read The Baby Thief by Barbara Bisantz Raymond to learn more. (It was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year in 2007.)  I also found a few sources online:


  • This video tells about Tann and contains many photographs of her and the Tennessee Children's Home Society. It's chilling and well worth viewing. https://youtu.be/tSQw5laNR3g





Before We Were Yours imagines the plight of four girls kidnapped from their river barge home by Tann’s minions while their parents were at the hospital for the birth of twins. Wingate’s description of the Foss’s life on the river shines. You can feel the love and fun of the tightly knit family despite their poverty. Although the book follows the girls, the devastation their parents must have felt was never far from my mind. 

The eldest, Rill, tries desperately to keep the sisters together at Tann’s “orphanage,” to no avail. She shows courage and grit throughout the novel, while at the same time feeling a failure for not holding the family together. She’s one of my favorite characters I’ve encountered in the books I’ve recently read.  

Rill’s narrative alternates with the present-day story of Avery Stafford, a lawyer visiting her South Carolina hometown to care for her ailing father, a prominent senator. She’s being groomed for a career in politics and plans to marry her childhood sweetheart, although they haven’t set a date yet. She’s stifled in the box her family’s put her in, and we see her beginning to resist. At a political event, she’s more intrigued by the elderly woman who approaches her than the photo op. She sets out to discover who the woman is and we gradually learn the connection between her family, the elderly woman, and the Foss children. 

In many novels with intertwined past and present stories, the past is so richly imagined that the present day characters and events suffer. And when a character’s purpose is to uncover the past, it’s difficult to give her a fully satisfying story of her own. Although not as vivid as Rill’s sections, Wingate makes Avery quite compelling. Most readers can empathize with her struggle between her family’s expectations and her desires.

My only complaint with the book is that the present-day whereabouts and connections of the Foss sisters could’ve been made clearer. I ended the book not entirely certain I was correct in my interpretation of the family tree, but that didn’t decrease my overall satisfaction with the book.

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