Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals, in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country, Before We Were Yours is a riveting, wrenching and ultimately uplifting global bestseller.

Memphis, Tennessee, 1939

Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge, until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents – but they quickly realize the dark truth…

Aiken, South Carolina, present day

Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

About the Author:

Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Her work has won or been nominated for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. Wingate lives in the Ouachita Mountains of southwest Arkansas.

My Review:

Before We Were Yours is based on the true-life horrific events of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society which was run by Georgia Tann in the late 1930’s.  To those who don’t know the story (I didn’t before reading the book) Georgia Tann was an American child trafficker who ran an “adoption agency” in Memphis.  She kidnapped and stole over 5000 babies and children from their families targeting the poor or single mothers and selling them to wealthy families all over the USA.  Unfortunately she died of cancer in 1950 before the investigation was made public and therefore she was never charged with her crimes.

Lisa Wingate has created a fictional family who find themselves caught up in this heartbreaking situation and whilst the book is based on the true-life events, the reader becomes absolutely and utterly captivated by the story and the characters.

Told though dual time lines and narrators, this powerful story takes the reader on a journey from 1939 Memphis to present day South Carolina.  Both stories and both narrators are fascinating and intriguing:

Rill Foss is 12 years, the eldest daughter of 5 children living on a shantyboat, The Arcadia, with her ma, Queenie and pa, Briny.  When Queenie’s twin pregnancy require immediate hospital intervention, Rill is left to look after her young siblings under her parents return.  However, when the police come knocking their lives are turned upside down.

Avery Stafford is our present day narrator, the daughter of a US senate who has moved back home whilst her father deal with his ill health and she is being groomed to take over his senate seat.  Whilst on a publicity tour at a local nursing home, one of the elderly residents bumps into Avery and both their worlds become entwined.

There are some absolutely heartbreakingly, emotional moments in Before We Were Yours which made me well up several times.  Rill’s narrative of growing up as a “river rat” on The Arcadia is both atmospheric and beautiful in it’s innocence.  This book touches the readers hearts and minds in a deep and emotive way and will certainly stay in my thoughts for a long time to come.  Definitely recommended.

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