The Tennessee Children's Home Society was an orphanage ran by Georgia Tann in the early twentieth century. Though she won't show up on a list of America's top criminals, she surely qualified to be listed as such. Georgia Tann was an evil woman who orchestrated the kidnapping of thousands of children so they could be sold to families able to pay their way to parenthood. Though the terrors of Georgia Tann were brought to light in 1950, she was never forced to face the repercussions of her crimes. Georgia Tann died of uterine cancer days after charges were filed against her. Through her reign of terror, thousands of families were torn apart, lives were lost, and futures were forever changed. Though the main characters are purely fictitious, readers of Before We Were Yours will get an intimate look into the evil that was the Tennessee Children's Home Society.
Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, is a literary fiction novel that has received acclaim due to its insight and interpretation of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. This novel beautifully intertwines the lives of its many characters which leads to a surprising ending. One of the main characters, Rill Foss, is a river-gypsy child, living on the Mississippi River in a shantyboat with her parents and four younger siblings. It is when her mother and father go to the hospital to give birth to the newest members of the Foss clan that their lives are turned upside down. Years later, in present day South Carolina, Aiken Stafford is the daughter of a prominent politician, who is in the middle of major life changes. Aiken is faced with the possibility of taking on her father's political career while planning a wedding, and struggling to find herself in the midst of the chaos. During a political event at a local nursing home, Aiken has an odd encounter with a woman named May Crandall. This encounter lingers in Aiken's mind, and encourages her to begin a journey that no one could have imagined.
Aiken's ailing grandmother is also in the care of a nursing home due to progressive Alzheimer's. During one of Aiken's visits to see her grandmother, her grandmother's brief but mysterious statements fan the flames of curiosity within Aiken. As her grandmother's and May's stories and secrets begin to unfold, Aiken can't help but try to put the pieces together and make sense of it all. As Aiken continues to discover more information, she finds that the Tennessee Children's Home Society slowly becomes the center of all of the secrets. With the help of a handsome real estate agent, Trent, who has a similar connection to the Children's Home Society, Aiken is faced with uncovering secrets that have been hidden for many years that could cause potential damage to her family's name and reputation. Through her search to find the truth, Aiken tries to find the balance of this new journey while maintaining her role as a respectable and dutiful daughter and fiancee.
I couldn't put this novel down, as it is a beautiful blend of history and literary fiction. It allows for readers to stay on edge to figure out what happens next and try to make the connections on their own. Though at times the stories of the children were intense, it was an enjoyable read. This novel is not only thought-provoking but heart-touching. Wingate easily incorporates Aiken's personal journey into the heart-wrenching story of the Foss family. Through the blending of all of the characters, connections are made that offer a sense of peace to the pain that was once endured. Though the main story within this novel is one sadness and tragedy, it offers a beautiful ending. Sadly, this beautiful ending can not be claimed by many of the children who were brought into the Tennessee Children's Home Society. As the book indicates, the real-life children often times were never reunited with their families.
Book: Before We Were Yours
Author: Lisa Wingate
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (June 6, 2017)
Purchasing Information: I borrowed this book from my mother, so I am unsure where my copy was originally purchased. However, this novel is available for sale on Amazon for $15.19.