The Pink Bonnet: True Colors: Historical Stories of American Crime - Liz Tolsma

After finishing Liz Tolsma’s “The Pink Bonnet”, book two in the True Colors series, my opinions are mixed. This story needs and deserves to be told, and yet the grimness of it is oppressive, truly making it difficult fodder. Prior to this novel, I knew of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society by name only, so this story was shockingly enlightening. As with so many appalling events throughout history, this one seems incredulous in its scope and longevity. Targeting victims who were poor and vulnerable forms a sadly effective modus operandi, indicating the ongoing need for reform. In seeking to dispel the evil associated with this organization, the depth of complicity becomes evident and has far-reaching consequences that echo still today.

“The Pink Bonnet” opens innocuously enough, with a mother and her three-year-old daughter struggling to make ends meet in 1933 in Memphis, Tennessee, low on money but rich in love. Almost immediately, however, foreshadowing forms storm clouds on the horizon, and soon events come to a head. Entrusting little Millie to a neighbor for a few hours, Cecile Dowd returns to find her daughter gone, given over to the custody of Georgia Tann, the unscrupulous director of the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society. What follows demonstrates the lengths a mother will go to in order to recover her child.

Incredibly pervasive, the extent of the corruption demonstrates the result of crony politics and the danger of being a parent in Memphis during this time period and also serves to remind us that such threats continue now as well. Child trafficking is an insidious business, and in this story Miss Tann is truly diabolical. Because of the guise under which she operates, a moral dilemma emerges: Is the child better off in an adoptive home? If the birth parents find their child and the child has a good life with their adopted parents, who gets custody? Pearl’s and Fanny’s characters offer a good balance by showing both sides of the adoption issue.

Harrowing and sinister, “The Pink Bonnet” merits words of warning. There is very little humor or lightheartedness to relieve tension, and due to the nature of the subject matter, there is mistreatment and physical abuse of a child as well as domestic violence, albeit with no graphic details. As such, I would not recommend this book for everyone. A few unanswered questions raised during the story remain, and the conclusion was more open-ended than I prefer, although part of this is attributable to the historical event itself. Faith in God does not truly become a strong contributing factor until the denouement, a fact which I found disappointing but which does point to the characters’ spiritual growth. One of the characters sums it up best: “The life, welfare, and happiness of children and their parents was priceless. Jesus had already purchased their lives with His blood. They were no longer up for sale.” Thank the Lord that none of us are orphans and that we will always be at home in Him!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and CelebrateLit and was under no obligation to post a review.