Memphis 1939–12 year old Rill, her mom and dad (Queenie and Briny), and her siblings live aboard the Arcadia, a riverboat on the mighty Mississippi. Everything is simple, get up and fish, watch the fireflies, help each other out and most of all love each other. When Queenie has to be taken to the hospital when she begins having labor complications with a pregnancy of twins the kids are scared but they know that Queenie and Briny will be back for them as soon as they can. However, strangers come the very next day and take the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage which was operated by the evil Georgia Tann. The sad thing is, this fictional story is based on real events. Georgia Tann really did steal poor peoples’ babies/children and sold them to wealthy people who wanted to adopt. Often the wealthy people were unaware that the children had been wrenched from their homes and/or that they had siblings in the home with them. Their names were changed, sometimes their appearance was changed and Tann had men in the court system and the police force helping her. So it was very easy for her to continue her operation, because evil people were helping her out. Here’s more on that:
Rill does her best to keep her siblings safe, and herself from being raped by the terrible Mr. Riggs (the handyman at the orphanage) but she fails. Her brother is adopted never to be seen again, her sister is adopted, another sister disappears and so on. It’s life on the river and the boundless love of her parents, and her desire to get back aboard the Arcadia and into their arms that allows her to stay focused and alive.
Present Day, Aiken SC-
Intertwined throughout the story of Rill and her family is the story of Avery Stafford. A lawyers, daughter of a senator and engaged to her childhood best friend/boyfriend Elliot, Avery has every advantage that wealth and a good name can offer. When she and her father visit a nursing home as a photo opportunity, an elderly woman named May takes Avery’s bracelet from her claiming that it “was her sister’s”. When Avery goes to retrieve the bracelet, she notices that May has the exact same photograph of the same couple in her room as her grandmother Judy. She wants to ask Grandma Judy about all of this but unfortunately, Judy has Alzheimer’s disease and she doesn’t seem to remember. Reluctantly, over time, May reveals what connects them all.
We read this book for book club and it was pretty good. It’s clearly obvious who May and Judy are to one another but hearing the 1939 story is really well done. You want to root for Rill/May as hard as you possibly can as she is escorted away from the river life and into a family of wealth and privilege. But Rill can’t forget her real family and even though she doesn’t tell her new mother and father the truth, she waits for an opportunity to return to Queenie and Briny…hoping that they are still moored in the same spot waiting for them to return. The modern day story of Avery, her love triangle and her fear that whomever her grandmother really is, might affect their standing in society. Tack on an insta-love story and well, I didn’t find myself loving the present day storyline as much as I found myself immersed in Rill’s story. To be fair, there’s a lot of tension and danger in the first story line, whereas I didn’t quite feel like Avery was going to “lose” anything by gaining knowledge. I recommend the book, just know one story line is far more compelling than the other.