Before We Were Yours. Finished 1-10-18, rating 4.5/5, historical fiction, pub. 2017
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 that the truth is much darker. 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.
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—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. from Goodreads
This was the Goodreads Historical Fiction Winner and although I didn’t read any of the others I can see why this won. There once was an evil woman who stole children from poor, loving parents and sold them to the highest bidder. These children were forced to live in horrifying conditions and it’s completely heartbreaking. That is true. The book is the fictionalized account of the kids she abused.
Rill, Camellia, Lark, Fern and Gabian will stay with me for a while. These kids, aged from 2-12, all lived on a run down boat that their parents moved when needed. They were well loved. When the mother, Queenie, was forced to go to the hospital to deliver twins, 12 year old Rill was left in charge only to be overrun by what she thought were police. All five of the beautiful, blonde (but one) Foss children were taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home and exposed to adults who only viewed them as profit, or worse, play things. The story was gripping and hard to put down.
It alternated with a current day story that connected to 1939 and was rooted in the political arena. It reminded me a bit of the current John McCain story with a Senator suffering from cancer but in this one the family decides to groom one of their own to take over if needed.
We read this one for our book group and everyone liked or loved it, but one. The 1939 storyline was universally loved, but there were some dissenting views on the current storyline. A few saw it as wasted potential and too clunky, but the rest of us saw it as welcome relief from the harsh realities of the horrific Children’s Home.
I would highly recommend this one. If you are interested in the real Georgia Tann and her home of abomination Google her or start with this one.