Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
This heart-wrenching tale opens in 1939, as Rill’s Mom, Queenie, lays laboring to give birth to twins. The midwife tells Rill’s Dad, Briny, that if Queenie doesn’t get to a hospital, all three will die. Briny finally listens, leaves Rill in charge of her three younger siblings, and disappears into a storm. The next morning, a stranger appears on their houseboat and takes the children into the custody of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society (with some difficulty, it turns out.) They are shown their new moldy beds in the basement of the building, their chamber pot, and the playground with no equipment to play on. They are gruffly told to be good, or else or they will never see their parents again. Rill does her best, but her wild sister Camilla surely doesn’t make it easy. Nor does Fern, who won’t let Rill out of her sight. With their blonde, curly hair and blue eyes, the children are told that they are beautiful and will find a new home quickly. But Rill doesn’t want a new home – and doesn’t know what to do – except to implore the children over and over again to be good.
Meanwhile, several generations later, Avery, the daughter of a well-respected senator, meets a somewhat forgetful old woman at a publicity stunt in an elder community. During the event, Avery’s heirloom bracelet goes missing. When it is found in the old lady’s room, the resulting conversation intrigues Avery to the point that she is willing to risk everything – including her own implied run for a senate seat – to find out more about her family’s history.
Twists and turns abound in this emotional stunner of a book. The story is teased out of the snarl of yarn that is the history of Rill, Avery, and the old woman, and rocks everyone down to their core. History shifts, people’s identities shift, and the reader is along for the ride. This extremely well-written historical epic is engaging and intriguing, and I highly recommend it.
Review by Andrea Maker, Circulation Staff
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