Before We Were Yours

 Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

This story is told in two timelines:

The first is set in the 1930s, where Rill Foss, 12 yrs old, and her 4 younger siblings Camellia, Fern, Lark, and Gambion, live with little money but much contentment aboard their parents shantyboat on the Mississippi river.

The other timeline is present day, where Avery Stafford, lawyer, moves home from New York to help her father, the State Senator, after he is diagnosed with cancer. She is engaged to a man considered by all to be the perfect match for the daughter of a Senator and with whom she's been friends since childhood, but who is now away much of the time working on his own career.

The Foss family on the Mississippi are poor, but more than content with each other and the natural world around them. The Stafford family are wealthy and well-known, but have secrets of which even they aren't aware.

When Rill's mother needs medical help during labor, her father rushes her to the hospital leaving the children alone on the boat. They are quickly scooped up and taken to the Tennessee Children's Home Society Orphanage, surely one of the most evil instituations ever to have existed. Some of the children are given to families looking to adopt, with no records kept so they can never be found again. Others live in cruel conditions under the direction of Georgia Tann, so vile a human being that it's hard to accept her as real, but you have to because both she and the orphanage actually existed. The Foss family is fictional, but their story  is based on those of people who suffered such things in reality.   

Back in the present day, Avery's grandmother, Judy's, fading memory causes her to mistake Avery for someone named Fern, leaving Avery curious as to who Fern might be. When Trent Turner, a real-estate agent on Edisto Island, calls asking that Judy come pick up an envelope he was instructed to deliver into her hands only, Avery tries to convince him to let her pick it up on Judy's behalf. But Trent says no, he promised his grandfather he would give it to Judy, and Judy only. Frustrated, Avery travels to the Isand where, with persistence, she finally talks him into giving the envelope to her. Confused and concerned by its contents, they begin to put together the pieces of the puzzle. 

Eventually the two timelines come together and there's a satisfying conclusion for everybody. Well, maybe less so for one character, but you'll be as happy about that as about the ones that work out well.

A good story in both timelines that perhaps comes together a little too perfectly at the end, but by then I was more than ready for good things to happen so I didn't really mind. Descriptions of life on the river and Edisto Island create a strong sense of place, the characters are credible and on the whole relatable, and the plot moves along at a good pace. Each section in alternating timelines ends with a bit of a cliffhanger that kept me reading longer than I should have. With effective tension building, a solid plot, good dialogue, and things to learn about river culture and Tennessee history, this one is a good read worth recommending.     


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