I’ve been hearing about this book for a long time and just hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. So, when it was suggested for the September neighborhood book club book, I was fine with it. Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, was very popular when it was published in 2017, and many of my friends read it then. It sounded really sad to me, and that was when I was skipping anything that sounded remotely sad (thus, was reading nonfiction).
What’s sad about the book is that it’s based on something that actually happened, right here in the USA, in Memphis, Tennessee to be exact. There was a horrible and awful woman named Georgia Tann, who ran an adoption agency there, serving all sorts of famous and wealthy people. They wanted attractive babies and would pay anything for them. So, Georgia Tann would send out people to take attractive, poor children off the streets, force mothers to sign adoption papers while under anesthesia, and other dubious tactics. Names were quickly changed, which made it hard for poor families to find their lost loved ones. Shudder.
Yeah, that sounds like a chipper beach read, doesn’t it? And it isn’t chipper, but it is fascinating. The characters in the book all seem very realistic, and you come to admire both the siblings who are taken away from their parents and the present-day adults who try to unravel their mystery. Your heart just hurts for all the families Georgia Tann destroyed, as well as for adoptive parents who were lied to and had no idea where their much-wanted children came from (this includes movie stars like Joan Crawford).
The book is both a historical novel and a mystery, so fans of both genres will enjoy it. You certainly will have a hard time putting it down, as you grow more and more fond of the people you’re reading about.
If you are like me, you will want more background on the actual events. Here’s an article from the NY Times about it. I’m glad these events led to some reform in adoption agencies and that any actual needy children did get good homes (apparently some of the things Tann did were legitimate, and she did help to remove the stigma against orphans that was prevalent early in the twentieth century.
If you’ve read it, share your opinions. If you haven’t, this is a good one to check out.