Friday, December 08, 2017

Based on Real-Life Events, Historical Novel Tells a Fascinating, Moving Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Tennessee, 1939—Life for the Foss family is hardly glamorous, but they get by as best they can.  Living on a shantyboat on the Mississippi, they take what the river provides, carving out a life among the colorful riverfolk.  Members of the makeshift community stick to their own.  It's only when Queenie Foss' labor goes awry, progressing beyond what the local midwife can handle, that the family has to seek help elsewhere.  With Queenie and her husband in a Memphis hospital, it's up to 12-year-old Rill to keep her four younger siblings in line until their parents return.  When several days pass with no word from her folks, Rill starts to worry.  Then strangers come to the boat, snatching up all five kids.  Thrust into an orphanage under the tyrannical rule of a woman both cunning and cruel, Rill is terrified.  How could Queenie and Briny have abandoned their children?  What will happen to Rill and her siblings now?

South Carolina, Present Day—The daughter of a wealthy, well-respected senator, 30-year-old Avery Stafford is poised to follow in her father's footsteps.  Not sure how she feels about the prospect or about her upcoming nuptials, she's already a bit rattled.  A chance encounter with a nursing home patient who calls her "Fern" leaves Avery feeling even more unmoored.  She's never questioned her place in the world, or the word of her highly regarded family, but now she's forced to ask a troubling question: Who is Avery Stafford, really?

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a fascinating novel based on the real-life antics of Georgia Tann, the woman who ran the Tennessee Children's Home Society from the 1920s through the 40s.  After brokering thousands of adoptions, Tann became the focus of a legal investigation that found her guilty of unethical and illegal behavior, which included fraud, kidnapping and child-trafficking.  Although the orphanage was shut down in 1950, Tann died before charges could be brought against her.  Through the fictional Foss family, Wingate brings the horrors wrought by Tann to vivid life.  What results is a riveting novel that is both compelling and touching.  Despite the disturbing subject around which the story rotates, it's a moving, hopeful tale with a predictable, but very satisfying ending.  I loved Before We Were Yours and I'm not the only one—the novel just won the Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction.  If you enjoy engaging historical fiction, you don't want to miss this one.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence, scenes of peril, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

12 comments:

  1. Every parent's nightmare: your children taken away. It is such a sad premise for a book, but it sounds good. And it reminds me of the TLC show "Lost Lives" where they reunite adopted kids and their birth families

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    1. I haven't seen that show, but I probably couldn't handle watching it! Adoption has a special place in my heart, so I'd probably just sob through something like that :)

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  2. This sounds SO GOOD! I love historical fiction, though it does cause my to-read list to grow exponentially as I find subjects I enjoy. :p Great review!

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    1. Right? I'm an adoptive mother, so adoption is a subject I can't resist reading about. I find the history of the whole orphanage to orphan trains to foster care systems so intriguing.

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  3. Replies
    1. I'm glad since our tastes really haven't been on the same page lately!

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  4. I so want to read this book! Too bad there are 144+ holds on it at the library. I probably won't get a copy until spring. :(

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    1. 144?? Wow. If I had a copy of the book, I'd totally send it to you. I had to get mine from the library, but I didn't have to wait nearly as long as you will. Bummer :(

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    2. Maybe I'll just go buy myself a copy for Christmas! :)

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  5. This sounds like a great book. I'll have to check it out.

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    1. It is really good. Clean, interesting, and well-written. What more can you ask for??

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  6. In 2018 I want to read more books in different genres and this sounds super interesting. I'm adding it to the tbrlist.

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