Before We Were Yours: A Novel

· Sold by Ballantine Books
306 reviews

About this ebook

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 2017Winner of the Southern Book PrizeIf All Arkansas Read the Same Book Selection

This edition includes a new essay by the author about shantyboat life.

Ratings and reviews

306 reviews
Bill Franklin
July 15, 2023
Lisa Wingate has taken one of America’s worst scandals and made it into a very interesting novel. Georgia Tann was the director of an adoption organization based in Memphis, Tennessee that took scandal to a new level. Her organization bribed politicians, judges, police, and the directors of orphanages to develop a criminal enterprise more like the mafia than anything else. They kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all around the country. Children who didn’t cooperate were abused, often sexually, and some were killed and records of their existence destroyed. Though this is a novel, it is based on research and the facts are now well-known. The book is two stories one in the present and one in the past that are clearly related in some way, with the relationship not completely clear until the end. In the present is Avery Stafford, who has been raised in privilege. Her mother is from a prominent family and her father is a prominent South Carolina politician. She is a lawyer who has been practicing in the northeast and is now returning home to help in her father’s re-election campaign. However, with her father’s cancer diagnosis, it is also expected that she will become his successor. In one event, she meets an elderly woman named May Crandall whom she discovers seems to have a close link to her grandmother who is in the initial stages of Alzheimer’s. Avery is drawn to May and drawn to find out how their lives might be linked. The other story begins in 1939. Rill is 12 years old and lives on a shanty boat on the river with her parents and 4 younger siblings. They travel down the Mississippi in the winter and back up in the summer and anchor somewhere during the school year so the children can go to school. Rill loves to read. America is already pulling out of Great Depression but for them, life is still hard. They are now anchored on the shore opposite Memphis and when her mother goes into labor. After it becomes clear that there is a problem and the midwife gives up and demands that her father take her to a hospital, Rill is left to watch over the others but when morning comes, a policeman with other “authorities” arrive to take them to see their parents. In reality, they are taken to an orphanage. At first, Rill thinks it is just temporary while their mother recovers and she struggles to comfort and take care of her sisters and one brother. As it becomes clear that they are being introduced to potential families, she tries desperately to keep them together. The chapters alternate and only gradually do you begin to discover how the 2 may be eventually come together. It is moving and interesting. The only criticism is that it seems too made up. The story of Rill is entirely believable and fits together. It matches the facts. The story of Avery, and even May, seems a little too “constructed” and too good. Avery is from a good family, a prominent family, a society girl who is well educated, pushed by her family to marry a successful man and to be perfect and project just the right image. This is a novel and the author can choose the characters. Is this the right character to be the counterpoint of a novel meant to expose a past scandal? I would have rather it be a character that I could identify with. And the romance, though it was a minor part of the plot, was a distraction. Still, this is certainly a book worth reading. It brings to life a scandal that should be known (and kept reminding me of “Little Orphan Annie,” except that this was very real) and it gives faces to at least a few of the victims.
Did you find this helpful?
Yuni Yustikasari
December 23, 2023
This book successfully describes the horrible situation of Tennessee Children's Home Society ran by Georgia Tann—a real historical figure, but it's a bit slow. The connection between Avery and Trent is forced, they lack chemistry. Also, the mystery of Grandma Judy's past and its intertwining with May Crandall's doesn't delivered smoothly, but it does intriguing to find out and read till the last page.
Did you find this helpful?
Jessica Leyva
May 10, 2024
It’s an amazing story. Very well written the vivid scenes take your imagination to places and make you live the moment. The author did an excellent job. I would highly recommend this book. Just be ready to dive into a pool of emotions.
Did you find this helpful?

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.

Rate this ebook

Tell us what you think.

Reading information

Smartphones and tablets
Install the Google Play Books app for Android and iPad/iPhone. It syncs automatically with your account and allows you to read online or offline wherever you are.
Laptops and computers
You can listen to audiobooks purchased on Google Play using your computer's web browser.
eReaders and other devices
To read on e-ink devices like Kobo eReaders, you'll need to download a file and transfer it to your device. Follow the detailed Help Center instructions to transfer the files to supported eReaders.