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When We Were Yours

Updated: Mar 29, 2020

I have always wanted to join a book club, but never really knew where to find one.  Recently, an old friend of mine told me about a traveling book club through our library system that chooses a book and meets at a different restaurant each month to discuss it.  I thought, why the heck not.  I'm not sure who will be there, but why not expand my reading horizons and meet other book lovers.

This month, the book club choice was Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate.  I honestly had never heard of this book, but like anything, once I heard about it, I am seeing it everywhere.  This book was an emotional rollercoaster.  It is based on the true story of Georgia Tann, an American child trafficker who operated the Tennessee Children's Home Society, an adoption agency in Memphis, Tennessee.  Tann used the adoption agency as a front for trafficking children and was able to do so, in plain sight.  She stole poor children from their families, and forced their parents into signing over their parental rights through manipulation and force.  These children lived in horrible conditions.  Many were physically and sexual abused, starved, and forced to live in squalor.  Tann "sold" the children to wealthy families and black mailed many into giving her more money.  She is attributed to hundreds of children's deaths, breaking up countless families, separating siblings, and profiting millions from her actions.

I did not know much about Georgia Tann and the children of the Tennessee Children's Home Society until reading this book.  The horror that took place in that house and the severity of Tann's actions are deplorable.  My heart ached as I read this story.  Before We Were Yours is a fiction story, but the things the children in the book went through are based off survivor stories.  Being a mother to young children, I had a hard time reading some parts of this book, but the story was heart wrenching.

Before We Were Yours follows the story of the Foss family, Briny and Queenie, and siblings Rill, Carmellia, Fern, Lark, and Gabion.  The Foss' lived humbly in a shantyboat, docked along the Mississippi River.  One evening, Briny has to take Queenie to the hospital, because she is pregnant with twins and in an intense labor.  While they are away, the oldest sibling, Rill, is in charge, and people portraying themselves as police officers come knocking on the shantyboat door and take the five Foss kids.  They soon find themselves at the Tennessee Children's Home Society, where their tragic story begins.

The book is written from two point of views and two time periods.  The story narrates Rill in the 1930's and Avery Stafford in present day.  Avery is the daughter of a prominent politician family.  Her father is a senator and is battling cancer, while trying to run for re-election.  Avery is at her father's side, following in his political footsteps, while also trying to find where she fits in and understand her families history.  The two stories run parallel to each other, and eventually converge to finish the story.

The focus of this book is the real life scandal that took place at the Tennessee Children's Home Society and related it to Avery Stafford's story of scandals that take place in present day politics.  Politicians seem to have skeletons in their closet, as most people do, but they do not want them seeing the light of day.  Avery feels drawn to find answers to questions she has surrounding her grandmother's life.  These questions pull her deeper into Georgia Tann's history and the horrible fate of the children that fell under her care.  Rill Foss tries to take care of her siblings as best as she can, but they all fall victim to the horrible conditions Tann puts them through.

I felt so emotional reading Rill's story and knowing that this is based on true events.  I cannot fathom what these families went through and it is hard to understand why it went on for so long and why no one stopped it.  The story itself is very powerful and touches on family dynamics, abuse, death, pressure from society, love, and acceptance.  I gave it ★★★★ and highly recommend it to readers who enjoy books written by Kristin Hannah.  I found the writing style similar, as well as the historical fiction aspect of the book.

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