Thursday, June 8, 2017

Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

  32148570._SY180_Title:  Before We Were Yours
  Author: Lisa Wingate (Website)

  Genre: Literature/Fiction
  Publisher: Ballantine Books (June 6, 2017)
  Length: 352 pages
  Source: First To Read Reviewer Program


About the Book: (From Goodreads)

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story.

Memphis, 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 that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, 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 redemption.

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—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

About the Author:

WingateHeadshot1-WebResLisa Wingate is a former journalist, inspirational speaker, and 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 Utah Library Award, The Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT Booklovers Reviewer’s Choice Award.

The group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with six others as recipients of the National Civics Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. Booklist summed up her work by saying, “Lisa Wingate is, quite simply, a master storyteller.” More information about her novels can be found at


My Review: I love books that are based on actual real-life events.  I had never heard of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and Georgia Tann.   Ms Tann ran an adoption organization that kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families.  From 1924 to 1950 Georgia Tann used deception, manipulation, threats and force to obtain children from poor families and single moms.   The children were than sold to families of means.  Notable celebrity, Joan Crawford used Georgia Tann’s services to obtain her twins.   The treatment of children at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society resulted in many children dying during their time there.  It is hard for me to believe that this continued for 30 years without detection or intervention.

Knowing this historical context, makes Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate all the more powerful.  Lisa Wingate provides amazing character development.  Many of the characters have stayed with me long after finishing Before We Were Yours.  The story takes place in two time periods.   In present day we meet Avery Stafford, the senator’s daughter and successful lawyer.  Avery as a character grows throughout the story and begins to understand what is really important in life.  She takes a journey through her families history and brings the truth forward, even though she is unsure if her Grandmother, Judy wants the truth known.  I love how Avery kept after the truth even though it could change her family.   As she grew, her life priorities changed and she found happiness.

In 1939 the Foss children lived on a shantyboat in Memphis with their parents.  They are a very happy family of limited means.  A medical emergency takes the parents away from the shantyboat.  During their absence, their 5 children (Rill, Lark, Fern, Camilla and Gabion) are kidnapped and taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.  The children are slowly separated as some are adopted. Georgia Tann changed all the children’s names when they came to the orphanage and tricked families into signing papers to legal surrender their children.  Some of the legal paperwork were completely fabricated. 

The oldest daughter Rill, feels she is to blame for not keeping her siblings safe.  Rill is an amazingly strong young girl in a no win situation.  She does the best she can to take care of her siblings.  I have so much respect for all she did for her siblings.  Rill gave up a great deal to stay with her sister, Fern and build a life with her.

I don’t want to give too much away, but Before We Were Yours is an very emotional journey.  Lisa Wingate skillfully weaves together the past and present to drive the plot.   I absolutely loved the ending.  There is freedom in the truth for the eldest of the characters.   I think the ending perfectly brought both story lines together, allowing a lost family to be found.   Before We Were Yours is about deep love and family secrets.   I have had a hard time starting another book since I finished Before We Were Yours, as I keep thinking about these characters and their lives.  

I rate Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate a 5 (it was amazing) due to the depth and development of the characters as well as my love for books based on real-life events.  I know this story and its’ characters will stay with me for a long time.   The images of the Tennessee Children Home Society and the events that happened there are forever with me.

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing

Happy Reading!

**Disclosure – Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate was received from The First To Read Program at Penguin Random House in exchange for a fair review. All opinions are my own.  This post contains affiliate links.

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