Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

4.42  ·  Rating details ·  25,020 Ratings  ·  2,980 Reviews
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate download or read it online for free
Before We Were Yours
by Lisa Wingate
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 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 fiancĂ©, 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.

“But the love of sisters needs no words. It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof. It runs as deep as a heartbeat. It is as ever present as a pulse.”

“Life is not unlike cinema. Each scene has its own music, and the music is created for the scene, woven to it in ways we do not understand. No matter how much we may love the melody of a bygone day or imagine the song of a future one, we must dance within the music of today, or we will always be out of step, stumbling around in something that doesn’t suit the moment.”


I absolutely loved this heartbreakingly beautiful piece of writing! I'd give this book 10 stars if I could! "Before We Were Yours" by Lisa Wingate grabbed me from the very beginning, tossed my emotions around like a salad, and never let go! I didn't want it to end.

I listened to the audio version! Both narrators deserve huge props for their performances! I actually think this novel was enhanced by the superb narration!

There are two storylines going on in this novel, one in 1939 and one is present day. They slowly unravel and come together. I thought the writing was wonderful and so were the characters in both storylines. As gut wrenching as this novel is I feel it is an important story that must be read!

There is a bit of chick lit to the part of this story taking place in modern day. I actually enjoyed the bit of romance in it, but I know some diehard historically fiction fans might not.

People are comparing this to "The Orphan Train". In my humble opinion it's a much better book.
Oh. My. Goodness. What a great read..... If you're ready for a story you can really sink your teeth into with characters that virtually come to life, here you go.

"Adoption matron may have been most prolific serial killer."

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS takes the reader on a heartbreaking, but mesmerizing journey depicting shocking truths about the real life Tennessee Children's Home Society that was active from the 1920's thru organization that basically schemed, lied, kidnapped and brokered children for profit.....while neglecting, molesting, and horrifically abusing those in their "so called" care even to the point of death.

But all is not doom and gloom......We have two stories that unfold here; while one family is literally being ripped apart, a member of another family discovers truths about herself and an unbelievable family secret....while finding true love.

Interesting and important work of historical fiction. Need to check out more from Lisa Wingate!
'Before We Were Yours' is a highly emotional and moving fictional story, inspired by true events. Through the telling of this story, Lisa Wingate sheds light on the despicable real life actions of Georgia Tann, a woman that ran a black market child trafficking ring masked as a legitimate adoption agency for decades in Tennessee. She catered to the rich and famous, providing largely blond-haired and light-eyed children to those that could afford to pay her outrageous price. She made millions off of the sale of children, who were often kidnapped.

This book spans generations, alternating between present-day and the past. The "past" story is narrated by the oldest Foss sibling, Rill (aka May). Avery Stafford, a former federal prosecutor and the daughter of a prominent Senator, tells the present-day story. Gradually, the two storylines intersect and the connection comes to light.

The fictional story of the five Foss children parallels the real life experiences of hundreds of victims of Georgia Tann's illegal adoption agency, the Tennessee Children's Home Society. The children are stolen from their family's riverboat one night in 1939. Their parents have to go to the hospital due to complications with their mother's pregnancy and childbirth. Left alone, the children are taken by corrupt police officers working for the notorious child trafficker.

Immediately, the children are thrust into a grim situation. They experience abuse and cruelty at the hands of the people running the "orphanage". Tragedy and loss become all that they know as they are stripped of their former identities. Separated, renamed and adopted out, their lives are forever changed.

Avery Stafford first meets May when she is visiting a nursing home to support her father's political campaign. There is something about the elderly lady that calls to her. Later, when she is contacted by the nursing home administrator to say that May took her bracelet, she goes against the administrator's instructions and decides to visit with the lady personally. Their first meeting sets a series of events in motion.

Avery begins digging into the past. She is determined to uncover the connection between her grandmother, who suffers from dementia, and the mysterious woman that she met at the nursing home. In her brief moments of lucidity, her grandmother's appears to light up with recognition when she mentions May. However, she is less than forthcoming. Avery is left to follow the cryptic clues if she wants to unearth her grandmother's secrets, knowing it may be the downfall of her highly public family.

This is the type of story that raises awareness and will leave you feeling outraged. It was emotional, inspiring and heartfelt. I was completely lost in the plight of the Foss children, while I was heartbroken by the absolute injustice of it all.

Ms. Wingate did a beautiful job of merging fact and fiction. The writing was flawless and the story was well-crafted. My heart went out to the Foss children, as I lost myself in their story.

Like so many others, I was completely unaware of the existence of this illegal adoption agency and the wide-spread corruption that allowed these child traffickers to prosper for so many years. This book prompted me to educate myself on the topic and I was appalled by what I found.

This was a tragic, and often depressing, story. However, I am so glad that I read it. It is an important story and one that needed to be told. It definitely isn't a rainbows and unicorns type of story, but it will move you and leave a lasting impression.
4.5 stars! What a heart-wrenching, powerful and emotional read!

I’ll start by explaining that ever since I laid eyes on this cover a few months ago, I haven’t stopped thinking of this book. There is just something about this cover that calls to me and makes me want to reach into the picture to hug and comfort these two little girls. I have never had a book cover ‘speak’ to me as powerfully as this one does.

With that being said, I was so happy that the actual story lived up to my hopes from the cover. It was an emotional, shocking and devastating story that I simply cannot stop thinking about. This fictional novel was based on true events surrounding Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage which was an organization involved with the kidnapping of children and their illegal adoptions. Tann made millions from her black-market baby adoption scheme from the 1920’s to 1950. I had not heard of this sickening piece of history until I read this and I have been googling and researching it since I finished this book. I have a hard time accepting this actually happened – it is so shocking and upsetting.

This novel follows the lives of the five Foss siblings who grow up living on a Mississippi River shantyboat with their parents in 1939. They have a unique and wild childhood with parents who shower them with love and affection in unconventional ways. One of the children, Twelve-year-old Rill Foss, grows up taking care of her younger siblings, often fulfilling parental roles. Rill is one of the narrators of the book and she is a character I will not soon forget - I absolutely adored her!

The present day story wasn't as interesting and slightly took away from my overall enjoyment. However, Rill's story more than makes up for it.

I highly recommend this wonderfully written and well researched book! This will definitely stay on my mind for a long time.

I will end with one of the several quotes that stood out for me. “I learned that you need not be born into a family to be loved by one.”
I don't read a lot of non fiction so I really appreciate when a novel can enlighten me on things that happened that I wouldn't have otherwise known about . 
As in Orphan Train when I first learned about their existence or in What She Left Behind, which highlights the atrocities of a mental institution and in particular the treatment of women, this story inspired by real events relays the sad story of a family torn apart by the greed and horrible acts against children and their families. The author explains in her note that the characters are fictional but the place and the circumstances and the woman who perpetrated these acts are real. In a recent interview Wingate described the seed for this story.

" A rerun of the Investigation Discovery: Dangerous Women cycled through at about two in the morning. I looked up and saw images of an old mansion. The front room was filled with bassinettes and babies. I tuned in and immediately became fascinated by the bizarre, tragic, and startling history of Georgia Tann and her Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. I couldn’t help but dig into the story. That was the spark that ignited Before We Were Yours." 5/29/17 in an interview on The Untold Story Guru.

The reality of what happened to numerous children from 1920 - 1960 is depicted through the story of five siblings taken illegally and subjected to the adoption for money system spearheaded by Tann. I said that the story is sad, but that's an understatement. It really is heartbreaking and though the characters are fictional, I couldn't help but think about the real children who were affected. There are past and present storylines that do come together and make for a captivating read. The Goodreads description provides more plot details, which I will leave out here and just say that I definitely recommend it. I can't quite give it 5 stars as I felt that the romantic thread in the current story diluted the story a bit for me . It didn't add to the importance in my opinion. Having said that, this is a worthy read, eye opening and heart wrenching with a thoughtful and satisfying ending.
An amazing,don't want to put down, hold the book in a big hug and wish this story never ended. Sigh* BUT....

This grabbed me from the get go. Two stories told simultaneously during 2 different time periods.
Avery's story, present day. She's an attorney who has met up with a woman in a nursing home who says she looks familiar. Curiosity starts to open this Pandora's box. Rill, a river rat, has been kidnapped along with her 4 siblings back in the 30's and sent to an orphanage to be sold to the highest bidder. Secrets are revealed that threaten to destroy a political family. Based on reality, which is disturbing in itself, I'm still left baffled. How does Judy fit in here? What did I miss?? I did have some wine while I was reading this but not during its entirety. I loved the writing, I didn't mind the romance but it could have been a great story without it.

4.5 ⭐️ and a big thanks to Jen M. for her sleuthing efforts for assisting me with the final piece of the puzzle!
One of the perks of being a reasonably successful author is that the FedEx man regularly brings me Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of soon-to-be-published novels. These are sent by editors who are hoping I'll read the book and offer a blurb, which will then go on the back of the book.

The latest was BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate. I just finished it and am sort of wallowing in the post-novel afterglow, completely blown away.

This was such a powerful, satisfying read about a group of sibling children who were cast into the Tennessee Children's Home Society in the late 30s, run by notorious child-trafficker, Georgia Tann, who kidnapped children and sold them to wealthy families.

I highly recommend adding it to your "To read" list.

Baltimore, Maryland
AUGUST 3, 1939

“My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon. The room takes life only in my imaginings. It is large most days when I conjure it. The walls are white and clean, the bed linens crisp as a fallen leaf. The private suite has the very finest of everything. Outside, the breeze is weary, and the cicadas throb in the tall trees, their verdant hiding places just below the window frames. The screens sway inward as the attic fan rattles overhead, pulling at wet air that has no desire to be moved.

“The scent of pine wafts in, and the woman’s screams press out as the nurses hold her fast to the bed. Sweat pools on her skin and rushes down her face and arms and legs. She’d be horrified if she were aware of this.

“She is pretty. A gentle, fragile soul. Not the sort who would intentionally bring about the catastrophic unraveling that is only, this moment, beginning. In my multifold years of life, I have learned that most people get along as best they can. They don’t intent to hurt anyone. It is merely a terrible by-product of surviving.”

This is the story of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, the facility, “home,” where Rill Foss, who will be renamed May Weathers, and her siblings who become wards, as well, are also all renamed by Georgia Tann. Tann ran the TCHS from the 1920s until the 1950’s. Her goal was not a lofty one, but for earthly riches – the kind you can deposit in the bank. The children were occasionally surrendered; often women under the influences of drugs during labor were forced to sign paperwork they couldn’t see well enough to understand even if they could read it. Often, the children were taken from their own front yards, stolen.

Alternating between the present and the past, this weaves two narratives of some of the children who ended up at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, their story as the children who have just been brought to the TCHS, what treatment they endured, survived – although, not all survived – and how these events shaped them as adults, as parents themselves.

What drew me back in, over and over again, was that I still found myself wanting to know what had happened to this family, and especially to Rill. What a marvelous character, a young girl in years, but ageless in wisdom, born to the river – I wanted to know the rest of her story.

Engaging, emotional, a slow unraveling of the history, weaving in present day dilemmas which, needless to say, pale by comparison - against the ones these children endured. That seems to be the way that life is. It’s so easy to complain about small things, until you wake up to the news that Mexico has had a devastating earthquake, or see the latest news about the wildfires in California, or that Puerto Rico still is mostly without electricity, food, water.

In the note from the author section, Wingate notes:

“The Foss children and the Arcadia were formed from the dust of imagination and the muddy waters of the Mississippi River. Though Rill and her siblings exist only in these pages, their experiences mirror those reported by children who were taken from the families from the 1920s through 1950.

“The true story of Georgia Tann and the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society is a bizarre and sad paradox. There is little doubt that the organization rescued many children from deplorable, dangerous circumstances, or simply accepted children who were unwanted and place them in loving home. There is also little doubt that countless children were taken from loving parents without cause or due process and never seen again by their desperately grieving biological families.” 


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