Historical fiction strikes my fancy only when the history is far removed from my own lifetime. The 1960s and ‘70s aren’t that far behind for someone just starting their 60th spin around the sun. And so, learning for the first time about an adoption scandal that rocked this country’s sensibilities in the 1940s was not just news to me.
“Lisa Wingate’s riveting, reaching and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we can take lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.”
Wingate touchingly tells the tale of Rill Foss, a 12-year-old girl, plucked from her parents’ home, along with three sisters and a brother, by agents of Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization. Tann sells children to wealthy families across the U.S., including stars such as Joan Crawford, known to her children as “Mommy Dearest.”
Many today might think of child trafficking, abuse and economic disadvantage as something of a modern era. Still others might see it as a sin of the past. In the discussion of foster children and adoption, spurred by the reading of Before We Were Yours, it’s easy to see it lives horrifically in both times.
Wingate uses two different point of view alternately between chapters, describing Foss’s early life and a modern young woman, Avery Stafford, with no known connection. The two literally touch one another early in the book, but it isn’t until the final chapter, we learn the story of their actual connectedness. I try not to spoil the endings in these reviews, but it becomes evident they have some connection early on.
Rill is the oldest of five children, living in a shanty boat on the river. Her parents are not well-educated, but they are good caregivers. Four of the five are blonde and blue-eyed, an important factor in their
Of course, the adolescent Foos sees life on the riverboat as idyllic and her family as poor, but perfect. Child welfare agencies might disagree and that was the basis Tann used to keep them away.
In the real world, Tann was eventually exposed, but died before she could be convicted of any wrongdoing. Still, many looked the other way, assuming the poor children were better off with wealthy families.
Finally, this book has garnered worldwide interest in the publishing industry and is being translated for publication in at least 14 countries, because the themes of child maltreatment are universal. Wingate is also the author of about 40 others books, several collections and boxed sets and one cookbook.
Before We Were Yours is available at your local public library, on Overdrive and through online booksellers, such as Amazon, where it has earned 4.5 stars. Incongruously, it’s easy reading, even called light historical fiction by one reviewer. I was especially welcome of light fiction reading after so many heavier, sad pieces and nonfiction books recently.