Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a story that tells two stories, one from the past, and one from the present and connects the two. It is a historical fiction story.
The historical story line is set in 1939 United States. It tells the fictional story of a family that lives in a shantyboat on the Mississippi River. It’s a sad and tragic tale that, sadly, many people experienced in reality–their children wrenched from their homes and families and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, where they must face many cruelties. I was completely unaware of this orphanage and the cruel woman, Georgia Tann, who was behind it all. It is a heart-wrenching story, and I was appalled at how cruel Georgia Tann could be and how long she got away with destroying the lives of so many innocent children.
The modern day story line was set in Aiken, South Carolina and centered around a well-to-do family involved in politics. The main character in this story line was Avery Stafford, who was set to be married until she meets an elderly lady in a care facility who awakens uncomfortable questions in Avery’s mind and sets her on a journey to uncover her family’s long-hidden past.
The story of the Foss children living in the shantyboat captured my attention right from the start and the children captured my heart. Never having lived near water, learning about their life on the river and the river community was interesting and enjoyable. Ms. Wingate painted pictures in my mind of the Foss family, their neighbors, and their life. The story line of Rill, her parents, and siblings held me captive throughout the book as my heart ached for a happy ending for them.
Avery’s story, on the other hand, took me a while to get caught up in. At first I considered skipping the chapters about Avery to remain immersed in the story of Rill and her siblings, but I didn’t want to miss out on any of the connections between the two stories, so I continued to read about Avery as well. After about the third chapter about Avery, I finally began to be more interested in Avery’s life as well, and so continued to read, both to find out what would happen to Rill and her siblings, as well as how they were connected to Avery’s family.
Before We Were Yours was a slower read for me because it was very different than what I normally read, but it was written in a way that, even though it was slower, I didn’t want to abandon it. I was both appalled and fascinated by the true history of the story and so thankful that orphanages like the Tennessee Children’s Home Society are no longer allowed to function in the United States today. As someone who loves history and loves to learn, I found this book definitely worth reading.
If you are interested in history and enjoy learning about different time periods and the lives of people in those times, I recommend Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, and if you are like me, it will make you laugh and cry, and Rill and her siblings will find a permanent place in your heart.