Before we were yours, we were someone else’s, ya’ dicks.
Before We Were Yours was our book club pick for February. And, man, was it a doozy.
Rill lives on a shanty boat with her two parents, Briny and Queenie, and her four siblings, Camiella, Fern, Lark, and Gabion. They spend their days fishing and playing instruments on their boat. It sounds, frankly, horrible. But I hate outside. The point is, though poor, they were a loving family.
Queenie is having more babies, and something goes wrong. Briny took her to the hospital and, before you know it, the police have taken the children.
Avery Stafford is living up to her family’s expectations. The Staffords are a political dynasty and Honeybee, Avery’s mother, has big plans for her daughter.
When Avery meets an elderly woman at a home, she learns of a family secret that is sure to unravel Honeybee’s plans.
Now for the good stuff:
Rill and her siblings are taken into foster care, specifically the Tennessee Children’s Home. This place was ran by a literal monster person. Miss Tann, who was based on a real-life person, was a human trafficker; there’s really no other way to say it. She preyed on the poor and uneducated, often tricking them into signing over custody of their children. Once the children were in her possession, she changed their names, fed them lies about their own back story and adopted them out to well-to-do families…who she also preyed upon. Rich families, struggling to have children of their own, would come to her, adopt children they believed to have been abandoned, only to have ol’ Tann show up ten months later claiming a distant relative had come to claim the child. If the adoptive family had, say, three or four thousand bucks, Tann promised to make the imaginary family member vanish. Tann was great at vanishing people. A lot of the kids, those who misbehaved or threatened her in any way, would often disappear. As is the case with our Camiella. She was a spit fire, that one, and Tann just couldn’t have it. Camiella disappeared and her siblings were told she never existed, that, no, there had only ever been four of them. It’s disgusting that this was and is an actual practice. Human trafficking makes me want to vomit. It is, truly, the most deplorable thing we as humans have done.
For those who have read the book, you know there’s an element of mystery involved, with a heavy dose of sad, but that, overall, Before We Were Yours has a happy ending. As happy as it could have been, I guess.
Now, I’d like to propose a different ending.
Camiella meets up with Silas along the fence line instead of Rill. Unlike Rill, she doesn’t look back. She doesn’t wait around for Fern or come up with a plan to sneak little Stevie out. She squirms her skinny little body through the hole Silas made in the fence and takes off.
Oh, she comes back for her siblings, of course, but she comes back with an entourage. An entourage of river people and those who have lost their children to Miss Tann and, once the kids are free, they burn the place to the ground, expose Miss Tann – who DOES NOT SIMPLY GET TO DIE OF CANCER – who is then subjected to a Nuremberg style trial along with Mrs. Murphy and her disgusting, pedophile cousin.
Sure, we’d never get to meet up with Avery Stafford who, without the original story, may not even exist, but it’s all worth for Camiella to get hers.
Sure, that’s the dream, but Lisa Wingate did a fine job marrying fiction and actual fact. This book, while it doesn’t seem to get too deep – frankly, I was thankful for that – there’s a lot her to unpack and it lead to a wonderful discussion.