I’d been waiting and waiting for “Before We Were Yours” to come out in paperback. I’m highly intrigued by stories about orphanages and the adoption process in days gone by (see: here, here, here, and here), my own family members having lived it. Of all historical fiction novels within the genre, this book had earned the most buzz.
This one tells the story of a group of fictional siblings who passed through the very real Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Run by Georgia Tann, the TCHS theoretically cared for children who had been orphaned or neglected, finding them good homes. In reality, Tann ran a business where she profited off these children, exposing them to terrible treatment in the process. Many children brought into the home were obtained by scouts who took them straight from the porches of impoverished homes. In some cases, sedated mothers were tricked into signing them over immediately after giving birth. Once in the home, the children were barely fed or schooled and often abused. Tann found them loving families – often celebrities – and made became a very wealthy woman by charging the adoptive families crazy fees.
In 1939, when their parents leave for the hospital to birth a set of twins, the five Foss siblings are snatched from their riverboat and taken to one of the orphanages run by the TCHS. As the oldest, Rill tries to protect her siblings and hold on hope that they’ll be reunited with their parents. In present day, Avery Stafford is going through the motions required of her politically prestigious family. While on the campaign trail, she meets an elderly nursing home resident and realizes her high class family is somehow tied to the TCHS and sets off to figure out exactly how.
The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was the romance storyline. It was predictable and unnecessary. The author takes care to make sure we don’t know the fates of all the orphans (because in real life, it sadly didn’t work that way) I thought it devalued the rest of the story to tie the romance plot in a less realistic, pretty bow.
4 out of 5 stars.