Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

During the government shutdown, I averaged five books a week.  I had plenty of time for reading and I took full advantage of it.  One of the most powerful books I read was “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate.

Before We Were Yours” is a novel based on fact.  In western Tennessee, in the 1930’s and 40’s, children were stolen from their poor parents and sold to wealthy people all over over the United States.  The Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by Georgia Tann removed children from their parents under all kinds of pretexts.  Mothers under the influence of drugs used in childbirth unknowingly signed away their newborns and then were told the babies had died.  Children were stolen from shantytowns.  After adoption, the records were destroyed so that parents were unable to find their children again.

The novel “Before We Were Yours” explores the history of one fictional family.  The children were stolen from their poor parents while the mother was in the hospital having a baby.  The baby was also taken and the mother died because of a broken heart.  The father, unable to fight in the courts to get his children back, became an alcoholic.  The oldest daughter tries to take care of her younger siblings but is unable to do anything when one after another is taken away.  Eventually four of the sisters find each other.

Lisa Wingate does a masterful job of winding together the stories of the children with the stories of a family two generations later.  A daughter, Avery, is getting married but has a curiosity about some things in the family history that don’t add up.  She searches for the answers and eventually uncovers the truth.  As Avery cares for a grandmother with dementia, she unravels the mystery and finds herself along the way.

“Before We Were Yours” drew me into the lives of the two main characters completely.  I laughed and cried and railed at the unfair way the poor people were treated by those in power.  But the story also made me sympathetic to the wealthy parents who didn’t realize they were participating in a black market for children.  I cheered for Avery as she discovered the truth and changed own life in the process.

This book was a different kind of historical fiction.  But it is a powerful story, well told, and one of the few books that gets five stars (out of five) from me.  It was a Goodreads 2017 Choice Award winner.