Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is an historical fiction novel based on true events. The story is about a family that lives on the Mississippi River; the story tells the history of the characters in the book and also of the main character, Avery Stafford, in the present. In the beginning of the book, the reader is taken to the maternity ward of a hospital after a woman goes into distress during labor and loses the baby – leaving her and her husband devastated. A doctor or nurse pulls the young husband aside and tells him about Ms. Georgia Tann with the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis. The nurse explains that she would be able to help the family get a child. Then the book takes the reader to modern times where we are introduced to Ms. Avery Stafford – Avery Stafford is the daughter of a senator and a lawyer living in Maryland; she is young and lives with her fiancée -and childhood friend, Elliot. Avery decides to move home to South Carolina due to some health issues her father is having. Her father is battling colon cancer and his opponent for his senate seat. Avery’s paternal grandmother, Judy, has dementia and stays in a nice nursing facility near her family and family’s home. Avery is the only Stafford who hasn’t married and doesn’t have children – this makes her the best person to replace her father if it comes to that.
The author transports the reader back into 1929 – she introduces us to Rill Foss and her family which consists of her mother, father, three sisters and brother on their shantyboat. The children’s mother was pregnant and in labor with a local person assisting when the mother begins to experience complications and has to be taken to the closest hospital which isn’t very close at all and her mother doesn’t have much time. Rill is worried because they can’t just take their shantyboat up the river and the only friend they’ve got on the river doesn’t live close by. So, Rill’s father has to travel up the river to find the friend to ask for help getting his wife to the hospital. It’s going to take time; since the midwife didn’t deliver the children, Mr. Foss refused to pay her before he left up the river. She’s angry and as she’s preparing to get off the boat, she attempts to steal some of the family’s items. Rill stands up to her and the woman begins to shout and cause a scene as she leaves for the night. Now, Rill has to keep her mother calm and the young children occupied until her father returns with his friend. When her dad returns, the friend leaves his apprentice behind to help Rill with her sisters and brother and keep them safe. Early the next morning, Mr. and Mrs. Foss still have not returned from the hospital and the kids are alone; they’re attempting to have a normal morning, playing in the river and relaxing on the boat. However, it’s not long before they realize there are people there to take them away – despite Rill and their friend’s apprentice trying to fight them off, all of the Foss children are captured and taken away from the shantyboat.
It is during one her father’s public relations events at a different nursing facility that things change for Avery. First, she notices an elderly woman resident standing outside in the garden looking serene. On this particular day, Avery is wearing the dragonfly bracelet her “Grandma Judy” gave to her. Before Avery can figure out what’s happening, the old woman from the garden has come into the building and grabbed the wrist with the bracelet on it and accuses Avery of taking her bracelet. Avery explains that the bracelet was given to her by her grandmother – the old woman tells Avery that she and her grandmother know each other well. This shocks Avery so much she just has to know more about this woman and desires to talk to her. A few days later, Avery receives a phone call from the nursing facility indicating they’ve recovered her bracelet from Mrs. May Crandall, the resident she ran into at the event. Avery hadn’t even realized it wasn’t on her wrist and agrees to pick it up. Avery has to pick up the bracelet from the director of the facility and asks if she can see Mrs. Crandall to thank her, the director tells her no because an employee spotted it in Mrs. Crandall’s room, recognized it belonged to Avery and slipped it into her pocket without Mrs. Crandall’s knowing. Mrs. Crandall didn’t willingly give up the bracelet or turn it in.
Avery, determined to speak with Mrs. Crandall, finds a way to get to her room, but when Avery arrives Mrs. Crandall is not there. While looking around the room, Avery notices a photo on a nightstand or tray of a woman and man; the woman in the photo resembles Grandma Judy and Avery tries to snap a pic of it with her phone, but isn’t able to because May returns. Avery apologizes for intruding, but mentions the day they met, how she wanted to speak to May and the dragonfly bracelet. They speak briefly giving Avery an opportunity to sneak a pic of the photo. After Avery leaves, she’s determined to figure out the secret her Grandma Judy has been hiding for so long. As the story flips back and forth between Rill’s first-hand accounts of what happened to her and her family, and Avery’s real-time discovery of her grandmother’s secret and her own ancestry is gripping. I had the hardest time putting this book down – a lot of events that occur in the story are unthinkable and unfortunately they are based on true events.
I love a good historical fiction novel – this book is a gripping tale of strength, endurance and survival. It is compelling and well-written; the author does a masterful job weaving the entire story together culminating into one climatic ending. There is a small love story involving Avery because she does have a fiancée, but a local real estate agent’s grandfather was helping Avery’s Grandma Judy with a search she was conducting and he’s the one the helps Avery figure out her grandmother’s secret. It’s a weaved into the story well and adds a bit of humor to a book that could be rather depressing. I would recommend this book to any adult who enjoys a wonderfully done historical fiction novel. It is worth the read – you won’t be disappointed. I checked this book out from my local library because I happened to be at the library alone this time and had a little time to browse the shelves. I saw this book and remembered I wanted to read it, so I grabbed it and headed for the check-out counter on a whim. I found the book so good that I have plans to buy my own copy; the hardback copy is available at Barnes & Noble for $26.00 ($23.40 for B&N Members) or you can buy it on Amazon for $13.59 (unfortunately, it’s not a Prime item).
Thanks for reading, come back next Friday for the next one!