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- Title: Before We Were Yours
- Author: Lisa Wingate
- Release Date: May 21, 2019
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RATING OVERVIEW ★★★★ (4 Stars)
Writing: ★★★★ | Story: ★★★★ | Characters: ★★★★ | Appearance: ★★★★
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
“Sure to be one of the most compelling books you pick up this year. . . . Wingate is a master-storyteller, and you’ll find yourself pulled along as she reveals the wake of terror and heartache that is Georgia Tann’s legacy.”—Parade
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MY 2 CENTS / THE CRITICAL POINTS:
I didn’t know anything about this book when I started reading it. It was a book club selection, so I didn’t need to read the back – I knew I was going to read it. I had a feeling it was going to be emotional, and it was. It isn’t the typical genre I like reading, but I am so glad I read it. It has opened my eyes to a piece of U.S. history that I never knew about. Not all history is good, in fact most isn’t, this included. Yet, not knowing, doesn’t make it any better. The families that supported and participated in this “legalized” child trading should be ashamed of themselves. It was disgusting and unforgivable. No child should have to suffer the way these kids did. No child should be ripped away from their family for no reason. There is a difference between children being put into the system when there is abuse, drug use, or the families are just unable to care for the children properly. But to have a child kidnapped off their front porch or sold into the system, its not right.
Lisa Wingate’s writing style is simple and elegant storytelling. The pages are painted with descriptive text that make you feel like you’re there in the world she’s seeing in her mind. Talk of magnolias smelling like freedom, children wrapped in bedsheets like caterpillars, and the way the boat moans beneath their feet…all of it allows you to hear, smell, even taste exactly what the characters are experiencing.
This book tells two stories, the first centers around Rill Foss and her siblings and the second centers around Avery Stafford a woman who comes from a well-known political family. The stories take place about 70 years apart, but are weaved into each other for the purposes of the novel. The first story, that of Rill Foss and her siblings, covers their time and experiences within the Tennessee Home for Children, and is both intriguing and devastating. The second story, that of Avery Stafford and the Stafford family as Avery is digging up her grandmother’s history and past secrets was a little less intriguing. In fact, at times, it was quite boring.
The Tennessee Home for Children portion of the story takes the unthinkable facts, based on the recounted stories told by children who survived the Tennessee Children’s Homes Society orphanage and who later were able to locate their lost family members after the documents were unsealed in 1995, 45 years after the home was closed. Lisa Wingate has created a family of believable siblings, using an all to likely storyline, caught up in this terrible scheme of child trafficking. It is heart-breaking and takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. When you consider these things actually happened, and may still be happening in some areas of the world, it is sickening.
As a mother, this was a rather hard book to read. The subject matter is disturbing and unforgettable. I kept picturing my children going through what Rill and her siblings when through and it made me sick. Having a story like this be based on something that really happened makes it all the much worse. That being said, I felt like it was extremely well-written and hard to put down. I needed to get to the end. I needed to find out if everything worked out for them in the end, even though I knew that for many of the children in the care of the Tennessee Home for Children, things didn’t work out well.
Character development is one of Lisa Wingate’s strongest tools. She weaves two stories; then and now, into this book and the only thing holding them together is the strong characters she has created. Rill Foss (aka May Crandall) and her siblings has such a tight bond that the entire book your hoping and praying that there will be a happy ending and everyone will find each other again. Avery Stafford, the great granddaughter of Rill’s sister is a truly honorable woman, set on finding out the truth even if the buried secrets could hurt her family politically.
The cover is beautiful. It speaks to the heart without giving anything away.
“One of the best things a father can do for his daughter is let her know that she has met his expectations. My father did that for me, and no amount of effort on my part can fully repay the debt.”
“A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to new music if she chooses. Her own music. To hear the tune, she must only stop talking. To herself, I mean. We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Selected among BOOKLIST’S Top 10 for two years running, Lisa Wingate writes novels that Publisher’s Weekly calls “Masterful” and ForeWord Magazine refers to as “Filled with lyrical prose, hope, and healing.” Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the author of a host of literary works. Her novels have garnered or been short-listed for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, the LORIES Best Fiction Award, The Carol Award, the Christy Award, Family Fiction’s Top 10, RT Booklover’s Reviewer’s Choice Award, and others. The group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with six others for the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who promote greater kindness and civility in American life. She’s been a writer since Mrs. Krackhardt’s first-grade class and still believes that stories have the power to change the world.
IN THE WRITER’S OWN WORDS: A special first grade teacher, Mrs. Krackhardt, made a writer out of me. That may sound unlikely, but it’s true. It’s possible to find a calling when you’re still in pigtails and Mary Jane shoes, and to know it’s your calling. I was halfway through the first grade when I landed in Mrs. Krackhardt’s classroom. I was fairly convinced there wasn’t anything all that special about me… and then, Mrs. Krackhardt stood over my desk and read a story I was writing. She said things like, “This is a great story! I wonder what happens next?”
It isn’t every day a shy new kid gets that kind of attention. I rushed to finish the story, and when I wrote the last word, the teacher took the pages, straightened them on the desk, looked at me over the top, and said, “You are a wonderful writer!”
A dream was born. Over the years, other dreams bloomed and died tragic, untimely deaths. I planned to become an Olympic gymnast or win the National Finals Rodeo, but there was this matter of back flips on the balance beam and these parents who stubbornly refused to buy me a pony. Yet the writer dream remained. I always believed I could do it because… well… my first grade teacher told me so, and first grade teachers don’t lie.
So, that is my story, and if you are a teacher, or know a teacher, or ever loved a special teacher, I salute you from afar and wish you days be filled with stories worth telling and stories worth reading.
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Also by Lisa Wingate:
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