Title: Before We Were Yours
Author : Lisa Wingate
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 06/06/17
Dates Listened: Dec 2017 – Jan 2018
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
*This is a review of the audiobook version of this novel, accessed via Audible.
“A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance
to new music if she chooses. Her own music. To hear the tune,
she must only stop talking. To herself, I mean. We’re always
trying to persuade ourselves of things.”
Before We Were Yours is a dual-POV historical fiction novel that follows the lives of two young women, set apart by history, by intertwined by fate. The story line centers around real events in history involving the Tennessee Children’s Home–an orphanage of sorts operated by Georgia Tan, a manipulative and power-hungry woman. Ms. Tan preyed on those in poverty in order to unfairly remove their children from their homes and ultimately sell them to wealthy and socially prominent families. Once the children were in their new homes, Georgia Tan would sometimes find ways to bribe families into dishing out more money in order to prevent the loss of their newly adopted children.
Rill Foss is twelve years old and her story line takes place in 1939 in Memphis, Tennessee. Rill is the eldest of the five Foss children. When she and her siblings become the victims of a scandal (essentially a kidnapping), Rill has to find a way to be strong and keep her family together. These children endure a world of unfair treatment and have a heartbreaking journey through their young lives.
Avery Stafford is a young woman in modern day Aiken, South Carolina. She is of the Stafford name– wealthy, powerful, well-known. Her father is a senator, she’s a successful federal prosecutor, and she is engaged to marry into another well-to-do family. When she meets an elderly lady at a nursing home named May Weathers, a Pandora’s box of unanswered questions opens into her life. Avery has to decide how to balance protecting her family name, uncovering long-lost truths, and righting some very troublesome wrongs.
I want to reiterate the fact that I was accessing this title via audiobook because I think that largely effected my opinions of this novel. Had I been reading a hardcopy, I think that my rating would have been much higher. The story line seemed to drag on for me and moved very slow. Most of the time, the twists and turns, as well as the love interest, in the story were predictable (for me) and I was ready for the conclusion far before it came. Historical fiction is not my typical genre, so I am used to the fast-paced plots of crime thrillers and fantasy novels, which could also have played into my loss of interest.
Despite these things, the story was fantastic. I had never heard of this controversy in our history so I was interested to hear all about the story of Rill’s experiences. Her story line was the front runner of the novel, in my opinion, with the modern-day story line of Avery Stafford being woven in to show the process of uncovering these family secrets and the theme of writing your own story in life. The characters of the Foss children were so realistic and likable, and I kept reading because I wanted to find out what became of each of them. I also loved that the modern-day portion of this novel took place in Aiken, South Carolina. I am from the Upstate of SC, so it was so much fun to see southern traditions and familiar locations discussed on the page.
The network of people that Georgia Tan had under her thumb was sickening. We all know that there are dark, corrupt corners of the government and law enforcement that no one wants to admit exist, but it seems even worse when there are the lives of young children in these corners. As a mother, it is infuriating to imagine a time in history when young women were being told that their children died in childbirth and being asked to sign paperwork while still under the effects of anesthesia (which inadvertently signed over their rights to their children). This conspiracy is definitely a dark blemish on the surface of the United States’ history.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, I believe that I can confidently say that this title is a must read for you. I also think that readers who typically enjoy other genres would love this story. However, I would not recommend the audiobook version of this book. The narrator did a fantastic job with the different voices and dramatics of the story–one of the best that I think I have heard, actually–but the pace was just too slow for this particular plot line (in my opinion).