The leaves on the trees in my yard started to change color, the morning air is crisp, and I’ve officially begun pinning pumpkin recipes I’ll never get around to making to my personal Pinterest boards. I think this is the most bookish time of year, and my to-be-read piles are growing at exorbitant rates as I prepare to cuddle up with an inexhaustible stack of books. I took this picture of Before We Were Yours a few weeks ago when wildfire haze cast a sepia-toned light over the last weeks of summer. I think it is appropriately autumnal.
Let’s get this out of the way right away – the cover art for this book is rather atrocious. It’s like a cheesy Hallmark card for sisters, probably featuring an overly sentimental poem inside. For this reason, Before We Were Yours sat in my to-be-read pile far longer than it deserved, despite the fact the book was recommended to me by an unfailingly reliable source (my Great Auntie Glo, inarguably one of the coolest women on the planet). Once you get past the cover, you’ll find a surprisingly well-written story inside.
Rill’s family lives on a boat on the Mississippi River. At the start of the story Rill’s mother has gone into an early and complicated labor. Her parents are forced to take a rowboat across the river during a storm to get to a hospital, leaving Rill and her four siblings behind on the boat. While the parents are away, the police come and take all five children into custody. Unexpectedly separated from their parents, they are taken to a shockingly villainous orphanage. An orphanage where abducted kids and babies suffer a host of abuses before being adopted into new families, or otherwise die from malnutrition and other nefarious causes. The story jumps back and forth in time between Rill, and a present-day story line about a young woman from a prominent political family discovering a secret about her grandmother’s past related to the orphanage.
Elements of this story are exceptionally difficult to read, made harder by the knowledge that the orphanage in the story is based on the real-life Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis, which abducted, abused, and murdered children from the 1920’s up to 1950. I’d never heard about the scandalous orphanage, and was quite fascinated by the author’s note at the end of the book which gives a brief summary of the real-life events that inspired the book.
Despite difficult content, it’s worth the read. I personally found the story of Rill and her siblings far more captivating than the present-day story line. The historical fiction aspect of the book was stronger than the other fictional elements. It was well-written overall though, and I think you will have as hard a time putting it down as I did. It’s a fascinating story inspired by a shocking history.