It’s cold and windy and it’s just started to rain (turning to snow later this afternoon), so it’s a perfect day for writing about books and reading them, too! I’ve got a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar and a slice of freshly baked Banana Bread to help me through this rather miserable fall day.
My Friends Book Club will be meeting virtually (due to rising covid cases) tomorrow night to discuss Lisa Wingate’s novel Before We Were Yours. Told from the points of view of Avery Stafford and Rill Foss, this novel tells the story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the horrific practices that went on from the 1930s to the 1950s and the blind eyes that were turned to allow them to continue. Avery is a young woman whose family is steeped in US politics. Her side of the story is set in present day and begins with her and her father attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies and press conferences in Tennessee. Her father is ill and she has returned home to help out, while also being groomed to take his place in the US Senate in the event of his decline, despite having a successful law practice in Washington. Her fiancé is also her childhood friend whose family remains close to the Staffords. Both mothers are eager to set a date and begin wedding plans, but the couple keep putting things off for one reason or another. When Avery attends an event with her father at a Retirement Home celebrating a resident’s 100th birthday, an elderly woman approaches and clutches her arm, claiming to recognize her and commenting on her dragonfly bracelet, an heirloom from her grandmother. This brief interaction marks the beginning of Avery's journey in her quest to find out who the woman is and what her connection might be to her Grandma Judy. Rill’s story begins in 1939 on a riverboat, the Arcadia, on the Mississippi River where she, her three sisters and her brother live with Briny and Queenie, their father and mother. Queenie is in labour and it is not going well. When Briny reluctantly takes Queenie to the hospital in Memphis, on the advice of the midwife, some corrupt police officers come and take the children away and deliver them to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, run by Georgina Tann and Mrs Murphy. Since Rill is twelve years old and the eldest child in the Foss family, she was given responsibility by Briny to take care of her brother and sisters, but she can do nothing to save them from the cruelty, neglect and brutality of the Home. These children and many others were housed, or should I say “warehoused”, in a network of orphanages in deplorable conditions with the plan to “sell” them under the guise of adoption to wealthy families, families that were often blackmailed afterwards and forced to pay huge sums to Tann to keep their dirty little secret. Rill's sections of the book focus on her attempts to save herself and her siblings and return to the Arcadia and to their parents. The two stories eventually came together and, along with the author's note at the back of the book, answered all of this reader's questions. This was an interesting book dealing with a topic I knew nothing about, and it was a real page-turner, as I really wanted to know what happened next and how things ended up for both Rill and Avery. I may write more about this next week if there are things I want to highlight from our discussion, but I’m guessing everyone in my group enjoyed it. It really called into question the notion of Nature vs Nurture, and whether children are better off being raised in poverty by biological parents or in relative comfort by adoptive parents. I would recommend this book if you like reading about these types of stories, especially ones based on real events, or if you have read and enjoyed Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train.
That’s all for today. Take care, stay warm, and keep reading!Bye for now…