Before We Were Yours: A Novel–Lisa Wingate

It was just . . . meh.

The story of the Foss family’s encounter with the Tennessee Children’s Home is horrifying, even more so that it’s based on true incidences, but I feel that Wingate cheapened the story by relying too heavily on stock characterization, implausible explanations, and ridiculous Southern accents.

The story of the Foss children came off as predictable, even obligatory, and I had Avery’s story-line figured out about 1/4 of the way in. As a matter of fact, that part of the story could have been deleted altogether.  Wingate’s biggest flaw was her stock characterizations. Here’s the poor, back-woods father, always optimistic and resourceful amidst the turmoil of the Great Depression; here’s the heroic young girl who tries her best to save and protect her family; here’s the feisty fire-brand sister who takes no guff from anyone, which leads to her ultimate demise; the greed-driven orphanage home director who tortures her wayward wards through intimidation and outright violence; the playground bullies, the demonic half-wit handyman who systematically abuses the young girls. There’s just a lack of freshness to their story, where there could have been so much more. Even if the events were based on true events, Wingate still fails to capture much more beyond the stereotypes.

The Foss children, through a series of tragic events, are split up, stolen from their parents and basically sold to the Tennessee Children’s Home and never see each other again until later in their lives, but the sisters’ backstories are glossed over. I feel that more development into how the sisters found each other and came to celebrate Sisters’ Day would have added depth to the story. And the reason for the secrecy was just absurd; I understand that politicians fear the skeletons in the closet, but come on, it’s just implausible that fear of her son losing his political career was the reason Grandma Judy kept her real family background a secret from the rest of her family all those years.

Wingate’s use of dialogue was another shortcoming. Her attempts to “southern” the characters’ speech patterns seemed forced and relied heavily on stereotype. I mean, “Honey Bee” for crying out loud. Really? We are left to assume that May’s neighbors are black from the way they speak, and I found this off-putting. The novel is not completely bad, and there were some elements I did like, particularly the story of the bracelet. I listened to the Audible version, and I did like the alternating narrators.

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