Before We Were Yours
By Lisa Wingate
Ballantine Books, 2017
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a fictionalized account of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and its director, Georgia Tann, who
kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country during the first half of the 20th century. “Adoptive parents [eventually]
discovered that the biographies and child histories supplied by Tann were false. In some cases, Tann obtained babies from state mental hospital patients
and hid the information from adoptive parents. Children disappeared from the Tennessee Children's Home Society under temporary custody to be adopted by
other families, and Tann then destroyed the records. Tann worked in collusion with some local area doctors who informed the Home of unwed mothers. Tann
would take the newborns under the pretext of providing them with hospital care and would later tell the mothers that the children had died and that their
bodies had been buried immediately in the name of compassion” (Wikipedia, “Tennessee Children’s Home Society”).
The novel moves between the stories of the Foss children, kidnapped one day in the 1930s when their parents were away, and the present day when a
descendant of the family begins to examine her family’s history more closely. The children, led by the 12-year-old protagonist Rill, are told they would
soon be reunited with their parents – a ploy used to gain their cooperation – but quickly realize that this is not the director’s intention. The novel
explores the fates of the Foss children (and their biological parents) and how their long-hidden history intersects with present-day events.
The novel is “emotionally compelling” (Fantastic Fiction) but it was not an easy read. Since it is based on fact, the cruelties these children suffered
are almost incomprehensible, and the fact that they were treated as commodities to be bought and sold (and sometimes eliminated) made the novel a difficult
but very powerful experience. “Before We Were Yours is a riveting, wrenching and ultimately uplifting tale” (Fantastic Fiction).