Growing up in the Great Depression in a houseboat on the Mississippi River isn’t easy, but Rill Foss and her siblings know no other life. And despite the hardships, the life they do have with their parents and each other is exciting, loving, and even magical, at least to hear her father’s stories. That life comes to a grinding halt when the siblings are abruptly separated from their parents and sent to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis. At the time, the orphanage was seen as a place for wealthy, prominent couples to acquire orphans from “good” backgrounds. But it’s now well-known as a nightmarish place that kidnapped poor children and adopted them out.
Interwoven with the story of the Foss family is that of Avery Stafford, a contemporary woman from a prominent South Carolina political family. Despite her ostensibly happy life as a successful prosecutor with a promising political future, she is troubled by the poor health of her beloved father and grandmother and her own uncertainty about her future. A chance meeting at a photo op in a nursing home unnerves her, piques her curiosity, and leads her onto a collision course with the Foss family’s tale. . . .
At the library, we’re preparing for Books in Bloom, the annual literary festival held in Eureka Springs at the Crescent Hotel. This year, it is May 20, from 12-5 p.m., and one of the featured authors is Lisa Wingate. Her newest book, Before We Were Yours, is a fictionalized treatment of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, which was a real place.
This book is a tearjerker, but I appreciated that Wingate never seemed to be manipulating her readers. In the process, she crafts a fascinating, compelling story. I read the book all in one day, and even though much of it is sad, the ending is ultimately heartwarming. I also appreciated how Wingate was able to bring her settings alive, especially her depiction of 1930s Memphis and the orphanage. She made the settings seem vibrant and real, but she also fluidly incorporated the history in such a way that it never felt like a heavy-handed history lesson.
As is common in dual narrative stories that toggle between the past and the present, I did find the historical narrative far more intriguing. However, the more contemporary story with Avery did hold my interest. In fact, I suspect it was necessary to rotate between the narratives because a story that focused only on the Foss children might have been too unrelentingly grim to read.
Before We Were Yours is a moving story about love and families–and one you still have time to read before meeting Lisa Wingate at Books in Bloom! 🙂 Please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information or to place a hold.
Recommended for those who enjoyed Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train.
What’s your favorite Books in Bloom memory? What books are you reading in preparation for Books in Bloom? Which authors are you most excited to meet? Tell us in the comments!