Friday, September 13, 2019

Free Form Friday - Guest Review with RFS's Fave English Teacher, Sandra Bybee!

In case you're just tuning in, it's Free Form Friday! Monday and Wednesday will have our normal reviews but Fridays are a bit more free form-- guest reviews, author interviews, info graphics, never know what fun we'll be posting on Free Form Friday!

Today we have a guest review from RFS's favorite English Teacher! (Yes, Mindy and I went to high school together, as did a few other past RFS reviewers.) I have to admit--Mindy and I are a little bit giddy and feeling starstruck that we actually got this to happen. #feelinglegit We LOVED Mrs. Bybee in high school. She taught English and Honor's English and not only is she an exceptional teacher, but she is hilarious and fun and EVERYBODY loved her.  Seriously. She taught us so many things, but three things we'll never forget:

1. College-level English? Easy compared to Bybee.
2. Thesis-making. She was serious about it. You better have a thesis or you redo.
3. "Cutting out the dead wood." Don't just say crap to say it. You better write things that matter, and it better be tight (and there better be a thesis).

There is narry a soul who graduated from ye 'olde HHS that didn't love Mrs. Bybee. She has since moved on from our alma mater to teach at a private university, and although we are now adults (she probably still thinks we're hooligans), the fact that she agreed to do this guest review for us is just...awesome. Seriously. Maybe she'll do it again, maybe she won't, but either way, today is an exceptional day for RFS. We hope you make you proud, Mrs. Bybee! Thank you for your review.

Review: Stolen from their parents by a black market baby trafficker, twelve-year-old Rill Foss tries hard to keep her four siblings together. This gripping historical story is told from the viewpoint of Rill as she and her siblings are stolen and adopted out by the real-life “Baby thief,” Georgia Tann. The story begins with Rill and her three sisters and one brother happily sailing the backwoods of Tennessee and Georgia with their parents on their houseboat.   The time period is the early 1939. The family is poor, but happy.  Rill’s mother goes into labor with twins and is taken to a local hospital.  Rill is left in charge of the boat and the younger children.  The children and Rill are taken by the police and placed in the Tennessee Children’s Home Society under the direction of Georgia Tann. She adopts the children to older, wealthy childless couples. Meantime, Rill’s mother has given birth to twin, a boy and a girl.  She is told that they died during childbirth and the twins are also given out for adoption.  The parents return to their boat and learn that their children have been taken and there is nothing they can do.  The mother dies of a broken heart.  All the children, except one little girl, are adopted by different families. Their names are changed and there are no record kept.

 Over sixty years later, Avery Stafford, the daughter of a New York politician, is visiting a rest home. She sees a bracelet on one of the residents, and it looks exactly like one her grandmother has had for years.  Avery questions the old woman, and it leads her to discover an adoption in her family that was kept secret for over five decades.  From there, the novel tells the story step-by-step of the evil Georgia Tann and the destruction of Avery’s family.  Once she realizes she does not carry a direct linage to the famous political family, she goes on a quest to discover who her family really was.  At the end of the novel, the family ties are connected and their story is told.  The novel covers three generations of the Foss children who were so harrowingly broken apart and sold to the highest bidder by the notorious Georgia Tann.   Each page of the book leads the reader deeper into the lives of these stolen children. 

Lisa Wingate based much of her novel on the historical Tennessee Children’s Home Society that was operated by Georgia Tann, nicknamed “The Baby Thief.”  Tann stole over 5,000 children between 1924 and 1950, selling them to the highest bidding couples.  The children were taken from parents who were poor or who had little means to care for them. The parents were informed that their children just went missing or died.   Tann placed the children in orphanages that she controlled, giving them little to eat and little to wear.  The orphanage keepers were cruel and many of the children never made it to the adoption stage.  The guess is that about 540 or more died of mysterious causes. The stolen children were sold to wealthy Hollywood couples or politicians.  Joan Crawford and Dick and June Powell were several of the people that adopted Tann’s stolen children. They paid a high fee to Tann, and it was not unusual for Tann to return to the adopted families and ask for more money. Tann was eventually convicted of child trafficking and brought to trial, but she died of cancer in the 1950s before she could be sentenced.   Since she destroyed all records and renamed all of the children, it has been difficult for many of the family members to trace their lost children and siblings. Lisa Wingate has pulled a piece of “forgotten history” from the historical records and woven it into a captivating novel.  Her novel is well researched.  After writing this novel, she spoke at the survivors’ reunion of the Tennessee Children’s Home society.  Many of the people who attended the reunion are still trying to trace their family ties.

However, to me, there seemed to be an unstated motif that is sewn throughout the book.  As the story of each member of the family is revealed, the reader can’t help but wonder, “Did the Foss children have a better life with their adoptive families than they would have had with their real birth parents?”. Maybe that is how Georgia Tann justified stealing the children. She placed them in a much wealthier and more educated environment than the homes of the real birth parents.  Only the reader can answer that question.    The novel is well-written and an easy read.   If the reader wants historical fiction, this is the book.  Before We Were Yours is Lisa Wingate at her best.  It will be hard to craft a better novel than this one.

My Rating: 5 Stars

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