Title: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Historical, Women’s Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: A+ & A Recommended Read
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.
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 the dark truth. 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 to 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–Lisa 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.
Alternating back and forth in time, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a heartwrenching fictionalized account of the horrifying real-life adoption scandal involving Georgia Tate and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
In 1939, the Foss children are unscrupulously removed from their parents by Georgia Tate who then places the children in an abusive group home until they are adopted. Twelve year old Rill is extremely protective of her younger siblings and she is determined to escape and return to their parents. While Rill makes a valiant effort to prevent her siblings from being adopted by other families, she is heartbroken as one by one, her sisters and brother disappear from the home. As luck would have it, Rill and her younger sister are adopted by the same family but she loses touches with her other siblings.
In the present, Avery Stafford returns home after her father Senator Wells Stafford is diagnosed with cancer. In the event he is unable to continue with his senatorial duties, she is being groomed to run for his seat. During an event at a local nursing home, she encounters May Crandall, who is a resident at the home. After she sees a photo that closely resembles her Grandma Judy, Avery tries to uncover the connection between her grandmother and May.
Avery has lived a privileged and somewhat sheltered life but she has blazed her own path professionally. She is engaged to a family friend and although they have yet to set a wedding date, they are well-suited. Close to her grandmother who is suffering from dementia, Avery cannot resist trying to find out the link between Judy and May. A perplexing discovery takes her to the family vacation home where she meets Trent Turner who is in possession of documents that belong to her grandmother. Avery’s attempts to make sense of the puzzling bits of the information she has uncovered leads to a stunning secret that has remained hidden for decades.
In 1939, Rill’s experiences with Georgia Tate and her illegal adoptions are absolutely horrendous. Rill’s chapters begin right before they are taken from their parents until she is placed with an adoptive family. Conditions at the children’s home are appalling and she and her siblings are subject to all types of abuse. Rill is surprisingly resilient although she continues to feel extremely guilty over not being able to keep her family together.
In Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate seamlessly weaves past and present into a compelling and informative novel that is poignant yet also heartwarming. The chapters which follow Rill and her siblings after Georgia Tate wrenches them from their parents are heartbreaking but highly illuminating as they shine a much needed light on a horrendous adoption scandal. Although these chapters are dark and the children’ experiences are heartrending, Rill is a resourceful young girl who never lets her tragic past define her. Avery’s investigation into the link between Grandma Judy and May is life-altering and in the aftermath of her discovery, she rethinks what she wants out of life.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a thought-provoking and captivating novel. The characters are vibrantly developed and incredibly life-like. The storyline is impeccably researched and the chapters easily flow from one time period into the next. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this thoroughly engrossing and informative novel.