“A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to new music if she chooses.”
Avery Stafford is a political up-and-comer in South Carolina — who happens to have a state senator as a father. During a press trip to a nursing home, Avery happens to meet the enigmatic May Crandall, a newbie to the nursing home and a woman with some particularly slick fingers. During their brief visit, May happens to steal Avery’s precious dragonfly bracelet, a family heirloom passed down to her from her grandmother. Avery goes back to visit May once she realizes the bracelet is gone, and so starts a journey of uncovering secrets long buried and coming to terms with the past.
Rill Foss is a enigmatic little girl, born and raised on the mighty Mississippi in a riverboat called the Arcadia. Then, one stormy night in 1939, Rill’s life, and the lives of her four siblings, are upheaved and they are thrown into a nightmare that none of them could have imagined. The children are taken by “the authorities” to the The Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an orphanage of sorts run by the incomparably evil Georgia Tann. The children are put up on the proverbial offering block, even though Rill knows her mom and dad, Briny and Queenie, are coming to get them as soon as Queenie recovers from giving birth to her new twin siblings. Except Briny and Queenie never come. And one by one, the Foss children are separated from each other, with no guarantee that they’ll ever make their way back together again.
Before We Were Yours is told from two points of view: from Avery, a woman searching for answers about a past she doesn’t quite understand and from Rill, a girl trying to figure out a future without the family she’s always known. And the answers by both find — separately and together — will change both of their lives forever.
The critics LOVED Before We Were Yours, a story built on the real-life terrors of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the horrors that families faced in the stead of the notorious Georgia Tann. Rill’s story, the parts of the book that featured the orphanage and its associated evil were captivating. Tragic and moving and uplifting all in one. Avery’s part of the story, though, left a little to be desired. Avery and her sleuthing partner’s storyline felt forced and inauthentic, essentially just a means to keep the Tennessee Children’s Home underlying storyline going. Which, I suppose, is the essence of any storyline ever. But perhaps it could have been done a little less opaquely. All in all, I lived for Rill’s chapters and I cringed my way through Avery’s. The lesson I was left with, though, was that I need to find more literature on Georgia Tann. Because she was a truly awful woman.
My favorite scene: While not a singular scene, some of my favorite parts of the book where when Rill waxed poetic about life on her family’s shanty boat, how she longed to get back to life on the river and how the Arcadia was the one thing keeping her going in the wake of the trauma of her family being split up before her very eyes. Makes you (me) kind of nostalgic for a way of life that I know I could never survive because HELLO I NEED INDOOR PLUMBING.