Monday, November 6, 2017

Audiobook Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Publisher: Random House Audio
Pub. Date: June 6th, 2017
Length: 14 hours, 28 minutes

Genre: Historical Fiction / Dual Timeline


Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for fans of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family's Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge - until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents - but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility's cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

Based on one of America's most notorious real-life scandals - in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country - Lisa Wingate's riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

What Did I Think About the Story?

It's been a number of weeks since I finished listening to this audiobook and it's taken that time to fully wrap my head around everything that happened within this story and my feelings towards it. Having not read anything by Lisa Wingate before I'm not really sure what I was expecting, other than knowing it had really good reviews and, from the synopsis, sounded like it would be a dual timeline story much like I've enjoyed before. What I discovered was an unbelievably heartbreaking story told with sensitivity and care and expressed through two remarkable narrators.

As with many dual timeline stories my heart lies with the storyline taking place in the past. Rill is a remarkably compelling and sympathetic character and there were a number of times while listening to her story that I nearly broke down in tears. It was absolutely devastating listening to the loss, abuse, dashed hopes, and separation from those she loved that Rill experienced again and again. These children, forcefully removed from everything they had ever known and loved, had to live in constant fear of being attacked and abused, going without proper food, clothing, and hygiene, and were forced to lie to those they came into contact with on the off chance that the lies being told to them - that they would be reunited with their parents - might come to fruition. I kept saying to myself "no way, this cannot have actually happened", but, as I discovered when reading the wonderfully informative author notes at the back of the book, it in fact did. It is so hard for me to wrap my head around someone (multiple people actually) who are sadistic enough to put children through what these children went through in this story. Truly, truly heartbreaking and so tenderly told in Lisa Wingate's capable hands.

Avery's story was wonderful as well, but for completely different reasons. Trying to figure out exactly how, and through whom, the two stories were connected kept an air of mystery flowing as the story progressed. Seeing Avery balance her need to find out the dark secrets in her family's past with her need to protect her family's good name was commendable and, it seemed at times, something that might not be possible. I also enjoyed seeing her transformation from the perfect daughter who always did exactly what was expected of her into a strong woman able to make decisions based on what she wanted out of life, including who to love. It is also through her storyline that we see a loose connection drawn between what happened to these poor children in the past and the very real and horrible treatment of the poor elderly in nursing homes today. In both instances we see the rich getting what they want or need and the poor forced to suffer what is given to them by those that just don't care. Avery's story was the driving force pushing the reader to discover these atrocities and, somehow, also a way to bring closure and hope for a better future for all involved (or at least those still living in Avery's storyline).

The narrators were truly amazing! Both narrators (Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber) made you feel what the characters were thinking and feeling and wholly brought the separate worlds of Rill and Avery alive. I think they, as much as the writing, made this such a beautiful story.

Before We Were Yours is both heartbreaking and heartwarming fiction. I'm not sure that I will ever forget these fictional characters, nor will I forget the very real atrocities they represented. I would recommend this to everyone. This is a devastating part of history everyone should learn about and no one should forget.

What Did I Think About the Cover?

This cover is so soft and sweet and tender that it nearly breaks my heart! Before reading the story I thought it was very cute - with the beautiful pastel coloring, cute towheaded little girls, one clutching the teddy bear, the soft-focus background - but now, having finished the story, I can't help picturing Rill and one of her sisters staring longingly at the water that, somewhere, has to hold her family. It really is just a beautiful, heartbreaking cover.

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

I borrowed a copy of Before We Were Yours from my library's Overdrive account. All opinions are mine alone. To find more information about the book, including other reviews and links to where you can purchase a copy, please see Goodreads HERE.

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