Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate packs an emotional punch and is a book you won’t easily forget.
‘The story she tells is heartbreaking and mesmerizing,’ muses key character Avery Stafford in the novel – those words could equally describe the writing of Lisa Wingate, in this compelling and powerful story, somewhat inspired by true events.
Born into a privileged political family, lawyer Avery has a glittering future path all carved out for her, alongside her US Senator father, and sporting her childhood sweetheart Elliot’s diamond ring on her finger.
But an unusual chance encounter with elderly woman, May Crandall, turns her world on its head as she slowly learns she has been spun into a web of untold secrets and rewritten histories.
Moving back to 1930s Memphis, we meet 12-year-old Rill who is shockingly snatched from her free-spirited river boat home, along with her siblings, and housed in a cruel orphanage. The children are barely cared for and only spruced up if a wealthy family is looking to sign up a new family member –all of it orchestrated to increase the immense profits of the crooked facilitator, Georgia Tann.
Tann was a real historical figure, splitting families from the 1920s to 1950 and seen as a champion for adoption for many years before being exposed. ‘Adoption matron may have been most prolific serial killer’, an article in the novel reads.
According to the afterword in Before We Were Yours, some records had not been released until 1995, leaving families shattered and disconnected for decades. Wingate shows the shocking ramifications of Tann’s meddlings, not only in Rill’s pain, but by weaving into the modern day with Avery’s story.
Before We Were Yours is a captivating novel, with many but equally engaging points-of-view, as Wingate easily moves between eras and narratives. Both leads are strong female characters who will stop at nothing – Rill, determined to find her way back to her family against all odds, and Avery desperately seeking a truth she isn’t quite sure she’s looking for.
The cast of characters is engaging and vivid – even Avery’s mother ‘Honeybee’ and future mother in law Bitsy are loveable despite their nosy ways.
But for every smile there’s a sigh. This book ultimately recognises the pain of so many who endured being separated from their families at a young age and were left to fight for survival.
This novel is an accomplishment for Wingate and another reminder of the bond of family. If you love the current trend of combining historical events and figures with modern day fiction, pencil Before we Were Yours at the top of your ‘to read’ list.