THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT—Over two million copies sold! A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller
“Poignant, engrossing.”—People • “Lisa Wingate takes an almost unthinkable chapter in our nation’s history and weaves a tale of enduring power.”—Paula McLain
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.
Publishers Weekly’s #3 Longest-Running Bestseller of 2017 • Winner of the Southern Book Prize • If All Arkansas Read the Same Book Selection
This edition includes a new essay by the author about shantyboat life.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours is a dazzling piece of historical fiction that lays bare the sinister work of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and its decades-long legacy of kidnapping and illegal adoptions. Wingate deploys dual storylines—one current, one set in the 1940s—to create a captivating, devastating portrait of one family’s reckoning with years of lies, shame, and long-buried secrets.
Wingate's tightly written latest (after 2015's The Sea Keeper's Daughters) follows the interwoven story lines of Avery Stafford, a lawyer from a prominent South Carolina family, and Rill Foss, the eldest of five children who were taken from their parents' boat by an unscrupulous children's home in the 1930s. With her father's health ailing, duty-driven Avery is back in present-day Aiken, S.C., to look after him. She's being groomed to step into his senate seat and is engaged to her childhood friend, Elliot, though not particularly excited about either. Though her dad is a virtuous man, his political enemies hope to spin the fact that the family just checked his mother, Judy, into an upscale nursing home while other elder facilities in the state suffer. At an event, Avery encounters elderly May Crandall and becomes fascinated by a photo in her room and a possible connection to Judy. While following a trail that Judy left behind, Avery joins forces with single dad Trent Turner, with whom she feels a spark. This story line is seamlessly interwoven with that of the abuse and separation that the Foss siblings suffer at the hands of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, a real-life orphanage that profited from essentially kidnapping children from poor families and placing them with prominent people. Twelve-year-old Rill bears the guilt of not having been able to protect her siblings while also trying her best to get them home. Wingate is a compelling storyteller, steeping her narrative with a forward momentum that keeps the reader as engaged and curious as Avery in her quest. The feel-good ending can be seen from miles away, but does nothing to detract from this fantastic novel.
I literally could not put it down. Truly magical and brilliant writing.
Beautifully written history we should all know about
I thought I would be reading an intriguing novel of loss, sorrow, and reunited sisters with historical context, I got that, but what I didn't know is I would learn of real horrors that befell thousands of children and parents in Tennessee and beyond over the course of 25 years at the hand of Georgia Tann. This is a story that had to be told in a fact-based novel to spread awareness of the baby selling and theft that went on for so long in our "free" country. Lisa Wingate does a beautiful job bringing each character to life, no matter the era or age as she moves from 1940s to present.. The mystery introduced in the first pages is slowly brought to clarity in a lovely story that brings so much sweet to a bitter story of loss, abuse, unconditional love and the true power of the human spirit. High praise for Wingate for having the courage to tell this story, when so many who it was written about could not.
Before We Were Yours
Oh my. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. I was swept away by Rill and Averys’ stories.