Last Sunday, I sat down to read and determined that I would read for an hour or two. The book I chose to start was Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Taking inspiration by the very real events surrounding the Tennessee Children's Home Society from the 1930s to 1950, the novel weaves together the story of a modern day, privileged, daughter of a Senator and a group of orphaned siblings trying to stay together and find their way home. An hour or two quickly turned into all day as I became engrossed in the story.
I had never heard of the scandal surrounding Tennessee Children's Home Society. Reading the book definitely inspired me to look into the history of what happened. It sounds like something from a dystopian novel, but it happened, and it happened right on the cusp of my own parents' birth! Knowing that this could be someone's reality added gravity to the story that left me extremely thankful for my upbringing.
The story follows two characters: Audrey and Rill. Audrey is 30 years old, navigating her career as an attorney in the shadow of her powerful family of senators. Rill is a 12 year old child struggling to keep her siblings together after they end up in the Tennessee Children's Home Society. What I loved about the author's style is that she made both characters believable. They both have strengths and weaknesses, as well as realistic character flaws. Audrey, though well meaning, occasionally slips into a privileged Southern belle, which only brings us to sympathize with the much poorer and disenfranchised Rill. Rill isn't a super hero, she behaves exactly as a 12 year old would and her commentary on the black people she encounters is quite fitting of a white child living in pre-Civil Rights Tennessee. Aside from being from the South and female, I don't have much in common with either character, yet I found myself invested in what would happen to them, rooting for their success, and concerned about their well being. This is a testament to the weight of the story and why I would recommend it to anyone.
Disclaimer for those wondering if it is appropriate for their teen and/or people who have experience with sexual assault:
Given the premise of the book, you can expect there to be some gruesome parts of the book. Nothing is ever explicitly detailed though sexual assault and murder are heavily implied.