Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours

by Lisa Wingate


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For readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale comes a “thought-provoking [and] complex tale about two families, two generations apart . . . based on a notorious true-life scandal.”*

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.

*Library Journal

Advance praise for Before We Were Yours

“[A] fantastic novel . . . Wingate is a compelling storyteller, steeping her narrative with a forward momentum that keeps the reader . . . engaged and curious.”Publishers Weekly

“Lisa Wingate takes an almost unthinkable chapter in our nation’s history and weaves a tale of enduring power. That Georgia Tann and her Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society could actually exist, unraveling the lives of countless children, stealing their pasts and changing their futures, will give you chills. But the real feat of this stirring novel is how deeply Wingate plunges us into the heart and mind of twelve-year-old river gypsy Rill Foss. Rill’s utterly singular voice will stay with you long after the last page is turned, as will Wingate’s courage to follow her anywhere. . . . Vivid and affecting.”—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of Circling the Sun

“A powerful tale of family, of sisters, of secrets kept and secrets shared. I absolutely loved this book. I’m still basking in the afterglow, in shock at the true-crime elements, in awe at the journey of these characters who seem to have immortal souls.”—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“An unforgettable read . . . This captivating novel will quite likely break your heart, but because it’s Lisa Wingate at the helm, you will not be left broken. She is a master storyteller and never fails to get to the heart of what makes us hold on to hope.”—Susan Meissner, author of Secrets of a Charmed Life

“Lisa Wingate’s heart-racing tale of a family ripped apart by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal rang so true I couldn’t sleep until I knew their fate.”—Julie Kibler, author of Calling Me Home

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425284681
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/06/2017
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 12,347
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

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.

Read an Excerpt


Excerpted from "Before We Were Yours"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Lisa Wingate.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Before We Were Yours alternates between the historical story of the Foss Children and the modern-day story of Avery Stafford. Did you have a favorite between these storylines? Which one and why?

2. Many families have been touched in some way by adoption and foster care. Is adoption or foster care in your family history? If so, how did that affect your thoughts about the journey of the Foss children and about Avery’s excavation of her family history?

3. When the sisters were initially reunited, they decided to keep their history to themselves rather than telling their families. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? What do you think the implications would have been if they had gone public? Do you think family secrets should remain secret, particularly after the people who kept those secrets have passed away? Or do family secrets belong to the next generation, as well? Have you ever discovered a secret in your family history? If so, what was it (if you care to share it, that is)?

4. “There was a little girl who had a little curl . . .” is a touchstone between Avery and her Grandma Judy. Is there a song or saying that reminds you of someone special in your childhood? Where does your mind travel when you hear it or repeat it?

5. Avery laments that the busy schedule expected of a Stafford has prevented her from spending time on Edisto Island with her sisters or Elliot. “Who chooses the schedules we keep? We do, I guess,” she tells herself but excuses this with, “the good life demands a lot of maintenance.” In our modern age are we too busy? Too preoccupied with accumulating things to actually enjoy what we have? Too dialed into media and social media? What are your thoughts on this? What would you like to change about your own schedule? Anything? What might you gain if you did?

6. While Rill sees her life on the Arcadia through the idyllic eyes of childhood, May in her old age seems to acknowledge that she wouldn’t have traded the life she lived for a different one. Do you think she wonders whether Queenie and Briny’s unconventional existence on the Arcadia could have been sustainable as times changed or more children were added to the family? Were Queenie and Briny responsible or careless in their choices?

7. May says, “A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to her own music if she chooses.” How has your past made you who you are? What do you want to leave behind? Anything? What is the true “music” of your own soul? Are you in step with it or out of step? What helps you hear your own music and find balance in your life?

8. When fear of being caught threatens to prevent her from escaping Miss Murphy’s house, Rill tells herself, “I shush my mind because your mind can ruin you if you let it.” Does your mind ever ruin you? In what way? On what issues? May comments, “We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.” Are women particularly guilty of this? What do we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t?

9. Child trafficking, abuse, and economic disadvantage still imperil the lives and futures of children today. What can we as ordinary citizens do to prevent children from being robbed of safe, happy childhoods? What can society do to prevent people like Georgia Tann from taking advantage of the most helpless and vulnerable among us?

10. Did you search for more information about Georgia Tann and the Tenessee Children’s Home Society after reading Before We Were Yours? What did you learn? Based on what you learned, what do you think motivated Georgia Tann? Why were so many people willing to be complicit in her schemes when they knew children were suffering? Was Georgia’s network a creature of the political corruption and societal attitudes of its time or could something like this happen today?

11. Avery feels the pressure of being in a high-profile political family. Do you think famous families are held to a higher standard than others? Should they be? Has this changed in recent years or is it just harder to keep secrets in today’s media-crazed world?

12. How did Avery grow as a result of her discoveries about the family’s past? How did it change her view of herself and her family’s expectations for her? Did your family have expectations for you that you didn’t agree with? Who in Avery’s family might struggle most to accept her decision to change her life plans?

13. Do you think there will be a happily-ever-after ending for Avery and Trent? In your view, what might that look like?

14. How would you describe Rill as she struggles through the abduction, the orphanage, and her decision to return to her adoptive family? Did you admire her? What changes did you see in her as a result of the experience? How is she different when she gets to the Sevier’s house?

15. Avery struggles to come to terms with Grandma Judy’s dementia. Her family wrestles with difficult choices about Grandma Judy’s care. Has memory loss and elder care affected your family? In what way? What issues did it cause and how did you deal with them? Have you imagined what it would be like to be a victim of memory loss?

16. The Seviers seem to have adopted the Foss girls with good intentions. Do you think they were aware of or at all suspicious of Georgia Tann’s methods? Should they have been?

17. What symbolism do you see in the picture of the sisters on the wall? How do you think the sisters felt during their Sisters Days? Do you have sisters you are close to or sister-friends you spend time with? What does that bond mean to you?

18. Did you wish all seven of the Foss siblings could have found one another in the end? In your opinion, would that have been realistic or unrealistic? Why do you think the author chose not to bring all of the siblings back together?

19. This novel has garnered worldwide interest in the publishing industry and is being translated for publication in at least fourteen countries. Why do you think the story drew international attention? What themes in it are universal?

20. Was the cover a factor in your bookclub’s decision to read Before We Were Yours? What reaction did you have to the cover and title?

21. Will you be passing the book on to someone else? Will it remain on your bookshelf? Will you give a copy to someone you know?

Customer Reviews

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Before We Were Yours 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 323 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read? It is a fictional story of an incident in history that I was unaware of, and clutched my heart with the agony these children went through. I got angry, I cried and I cheered. This book has it all, without the sex and bad language.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Being from Memphis, I have always been interested in the story of Georgia Tann and the children adopted through the Tennessee Children's Home Society. The author took this very real backdrop and created characters who were based on the many real stories of adoptees and thier families. Loved all of the characters, amazing story. Loved this book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books this summer! I love fiction based on fact. Well written. Won't disappoint.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enlightenment to the world of adopted children during the depression
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WOW!!! Hard to put down, excellent writing and very moving.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best stories I've read. Wonderfully written and so easy to become a part of.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ingeniously woven together stories, one from the past and one from the present. Curiosity keeps one reading to discover how they relate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this Book. I couldn't put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have ever read and Take a Barnes $10 Off coupons code from
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fits quite well into society today. Sadly enough. Thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As stated, the historical portion of the story was phenominal. The characters came to life quickly, and compelled me to keep reading. Sadly, much of the current day tale is written quite poorly and reads like a tired beach novel. It was hard to believe in the current day cast. Many times I fought with myself to read on, despite the sheer stupidity of the characters. It was almost too much to skip back and forth between a histrorical novel which was so well written and compelling and a cheap novel which was anything but. I give a four star review because overall the book is fascinating and well worth reading. Just got to get through the parts that are not.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It wasn't so long ago...unbelieveable, awful period of time for our children... Glad for the sweet ending! Our seniors deserve so much more
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down. Horrifying and inspiring at the same time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written. Easy, absorbing read about a tragic and so sad chapter in American history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a full time student with two jobs, five children, and a new husband. I rarely have time to read for leisure anymore but I could not put this book down. I read it in 24 hours and was sad when I was finished with it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So well written, could put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting book. Been telling all my friends to read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a stay up all night reading, don't forget the kleenex, bittersweet story expertly told! Tugs at the heartstrings, breaks your heart and warms the soul. Simply a wonderful read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully told tale of the fallout from an historical scandal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was such a great read. I sat down and devoured it in one day! I loved Ms. Wingate's writing style. I was invested in each of the characters and couldn't wait to see where the story would go. I will definitely seek out more of the author's books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful sad/happy story. Writing was great kept the reader engaged and brought the characters to life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldnt put it down