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 the dark truth. 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 fiance, 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 to redemption.
So here's the deal. This is based on a true story. There really was an adoption agency that kidnapped kids and then sold them to families around the country. It reminds me a little bit of Kline's The Orphan Train. Except, in that case, many of the kids were actually given up by their parents. In this story, it was always involuntary. Can you even imagine? There is something about historical fiction that just grabs me. I have read dozens of books that were not historical fiction that I absolutely loved. But there is a different feeling when you know that what is described actually happened. And it's even magnified when you know that children are the victims.
But aside from the historical significance, Before We Were Yours is just a really good, well-written book. I love the juxtapositon of 1939 and present day (the book was published last year). You just know that characters from 1939 are going to be present in 2017. And you keep waiting to find out about those connections. It actually created a ton of suspense throughout the book. If you go to Goodreads and check out the different genres people credited to BWWY, you won't find Mystery among them. But it sure did feel that way to me. Bravo to Lisa for creating that feeling.
Is the writing good? Uh, yeah. Look at how she describes what happens to the memories of an older person: "It's as if her memory book has fallen open, a persistent wind tearing out the most recent pages first. The older the memories are, the more likely they are to remain intact." Or how about this one: "The story she tells is heartbreaking but mesmerizing." I think we can all relate to this, can't we?
Before We Were Yours is just flat-out a really good book. You get to learn something and also become attached to characters of all ages. What more can you ask for?