I come from a book family. I think everybody gives everybody at least one book for Christmas so it’s always fun to figure out who to give what. My father and I have very similar tastes, so that’s easy, and I’ve more or less got my mom nailed down. With my aunt, though, I always end up giving something bland and inoffensive because I really just don’t know her well enough to branch out. Before We Were Yours fits the bill nicely. The poorly kerned text and uninspired cover design should tell you everything you need to know.
The most interesting part of this book is that it is rooted in virtually unknown American history. In Depression-era Tennessee, there really was a woman named Georgia Tann who used the trappings of society to hide child trafficking in plain sight. She operated what she claimed to be orphanages that dealt in connecting childless wealthy couples with children in unfortunate circumstances. In reality, she stole children from their parents and sold them under the table to upper class families at a very tidy profit. The children in her clutches were beaten, starved, and otherwise abused. Families were torn apart. It’s estimated that hundreds died, but proper records never existed and the true extent of her crimes will never be known. And she died of cancer before she could ever face justice. I mean, damn.
The story Wingate has chosen to tell is not necessarily a true one, but it hits all the right beats. The chapters alternate between past and present – between 12-year-old Rill, kidnapped with her siblings and sold off one by one, and adult Avery two generations later, piecing together family secrets. It’s an interesting story, for sure, but it’s rather inexpertly told. Her writing just isn’t good. It’s a good one to have read, if only so I know what I’m gifting later.