The story begins in Memphis 1939, narrated by 12-year old Rill Foss who along with her three younger siblings are riding out a storm on their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat in the midst of their mother being in full labor. Not long after their parents leave for the hospital, they are besieged upon by strangers who essentially abduct them, delivering them to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an orphanage run by the Georgia Tann.
Next, we transition to present day and our narrator is Avery Stafford, a young federal prosecutor who returns home to Aiken, South Carolina when her father’s health takes a turn. Hers is a wealthy and influential family so when she has an unusual encounter with a mysterious woman at a nursing home facility, all that is threatened when Avery begins to pursue her history.
I knew before I started this book my heart was going to take a hit. Just take one look at the cover (one of the best, in my opinion) for a sense of what’s to come. This is a fictionalized account of one of the families destroyed by the real-life Georgia Tann who dispassionately ran the aforementioned adoption agency from 1920 – 1950, kidnapping and selling children to unsuspecting wealthy families, mostly out of state. I hadn’t heard of this scandal before this book.
While Rill’s story will almost destroy you emotionally, you’ll also fall in love with this young girl who fights desperately to keep her siblings together and takes care of their needs. Avery’s story isn’t as compelling but serves to provide a balance and bridge between the two eras. Hers offers hope and brightness to salve my hurt from Rill’s account. It was a lifeline.
Despite the heartbreak, I loved this story and am also grateful when I can learn something in the process. The two narrators were wonderful, especially Rill’s who really captured the grit of that character. She made her come alive, allowing me to create a vivid image of this brave girl. The author did an outstanding job of shining light on this abysmal and shameful period of our history while delivering a story that, at its core, is one of resilience, determination and strength of character.