Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Published By: Ballantine Books (2017)


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 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. (Taken from Goodreads)


Wow, this was not the kind of book I was expecting! From the title I thought it might be some sweet adoption story. Not so. Instead, this book dives headfirst into child abuse and illegal “adoptions” that were going on in the early 1910s. This was something I didn’t really know anything about, and it held my attention from page one. 

This book did not skirt around anything that might be considered too hard or difficult to write about, as some writers do when dealing with tough issues, but instead addressed it head-on with gentleness. I did figure out most of the “mystery” pretty fast (well, not all the nitty-gritty, because that was so complicated I doubt anybody could, but I did figure out who was who pretty quick), but it was still enjoyable to read and watch the characters figure it out. The story never felt dragged out and all came together very skillfully. The author is a master at her art and I was very impressed by the her ability to tell this complicated, yet important, tale. Both main characters—Avery and Rill—were unique and their stories were intertwined beautifully.

Negative Content/Notes:

Rill, one of our main characters, and her siblings are stuck in an orphange-type place where they are badly mistreated. Though it never goes into gory detail, it does not skirt around anything either.

Overall: I was very impressed.

Rating: 5.0 / 5.0

Recommended to: Ages 14+.

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