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Sunday, June 25, 2017

The mind forgets, but the heart never does...Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a beautifully written book about an ugly subject. It is fiction built around factual events and places. It gets in your mind and stays there long after you close the final chapter.

I loved it! So much so that I read it twice in two weeks. It's that good.

The book has many layers and themes, many truths to be uncovered, and many lessons to be learned. All beautifully presented.

From the book's blurb:  Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancĂ©, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation . . . or redemption."

First, fact from fiction...the characters of the children are fictional, but based upon the recollections of numerous children who lived the fact. They show us the innocence of youth.

The modern day characters are fiction, but the main adult character, Georgia Tann, the baby broker, is real. She shows us the ugliest side of humanity for the novel is based on the notorious real-life scandal of Mrs.Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization who kidnapped poor children and sold them to wealthy families. This was accomplished under the guise of charity and accomplished through the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis.

Our young characters, and later as the elderly adults they become, are well drawn, thoroughly believable, and thoroughly touching. First there's Rill, a river-rat with spunk, a female Huckleberry Finn. There are then her three sisters and a brother. Their stories drive the novel and expose the cruelty of Georgia Tann as well as the acceptance of her 'work' by society.

Then, as adults, we meet Rill and her sisters again. We hear their stories of mid-life, but it is the living of the elderly years of two of them, that touches our hearts, and brings the story full circle. It is through them that we poignantly learn such truths as : "You need not be born into a family to be loved by one," "The music of old age is difficult to hear when it's playing for someone you love," and finally as Hootsie says, "What the mind don't 'member, the heart still know. Love, the strongest thang of all. Stronger than all the rest." 

One beautifully written passage has stayed with me: "Life is not unlike cinema. Each scene has its own music and the music is created for the scene, woven to it in ways we do not understand. No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day...we must dance within the music of today."

I found the story engaging, deeply touching, and deeply moving. Some readers will find the story difficult to read at certain points. Still it needs, it deserves, to be read.

I received an ereader preview copy from NetGalley and then won a hardback copy through a Talbots summer reading program. I am thrilled to have that copy to add to my bookcase and to share with my family. The book is available at all major outlets and online.

The history behind the story. Here's a brief except from the New York Times Post of June 17, 2017. Click the link below to read the entire article, complete with photos.

This woman stole children from the poor to give to the rich:

Babies were snatched off the streets by strangers in passing cars. Or taken from day-care centers or church basements where they played. Or stolen from hospitals, right after birth, passed from doctor to nurse to a uniformed “social worker” — before vanishing in an instant.
Some were dropped into dismal orphanages; others were sent to a new family, their identities wiped, no questions asked. Most would never see their birth parents again.
While it sounds like something out of Dickens or the Brothers Grimm, this happened in the United States in the 20th century. Thousands of times.

She was the mastermind behind a black market for white babies.
It was the dark handiwork of the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a supposedly charitable organization, led by a woman named Georgia Tann.

Tann was a pied piper without scruple; she was the mastermind behind a black market for white babies (especially blond, blue-eyed ones) that terrorized poor Southern families for almost three decades. It’s estimated that over 5,000 children were stolen by Tann and the society between 1924 and 1950 and that some 500 died at the society’s hands as a result of poor care, disease and, it is suspected, abuse.
Particularly vulnerable were newborns. In 1945 alone, as many as 50 children perished in a dysentery outbreak. The precise figure, like so many terrible details about the society, is not known.
Tann had various means of procuring babies and children for her wealthy customers. She bribed nurses and doctors in birthing wards, who would then tell new parents that their babies had been stillborn.

It’s estimated that over 5,000 children were stolen by Tann


  1. I just recently read a similar novel, Faye. Similar in the sense that children were used, more less, as "currency" by some despicable people. It seems almost impossible that this sort of evil can exist. Maybe the good news is that it makes me, personally, feel grateful. We all grow up around our perceived dramatic family and friends, but when you reduce it down, life is good. I think your writing continually gets better and better over time. I am so impressed by what you do and realize through your work.

  2. Thank your for your generous words. This book deserves to be read by many.

  3. Hi Julia,

    With whom should I inquire about obtaining the "Subsidiary Rights" to one of your books? Please provide me with an email address if possible. Thank you!

    1. R,
      Could you give me a little more information?