Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate Book Summary

THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT—Over two million copies sold! A New York TimesUSA 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.

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Before We Were Yours (Lisa Wingate) Book Reviews

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- Before We Were Yours5 star

I really enjoyed this book based on a true story of poverty, abuse, family secrets and love. I read it for bookclub and glad that I did.

- Before we were yours5 star

This was one of the best books I have read in a long time. Every page was captivating. I couldn’t put it down.

- Before We Were Yours4 star

This book captivated me. The horrors of the children were just unimaginable, but the entwined story of mystery and romance kept me glued to it. I read it at the beach! A perfect vacation book because I could read for hours and hours!

- River Gypsies4 star

This book is captivating with a mystery at every turn. The fact that it is Historical fiction tells the tale of the River Gypsies who lived on the river during the depression. They had no property to live on so they moved to the River and literally lived on the water in a shanty. I learned about a culture I never knew existed. Multiple orphanages in the black market and how it affected so many lives. This was definitely a good read.

- Couldn’t stop listening!5 star

A great story! A perfect example of what storytelling should be all about.

- Before we were yours ...Lisa Wingate5 star

Terrific read. Hard to finish as the book is based on a true story and it’s hard to leave the characters.

- Before we were yours1 star

Very mixed up and way to many characters in this. I will try to get my money back from my Apple Acct For my iPad reading this week. Had no understanding and I felt it was a mess. I night 4 books in two weeks and loved them all. i hope apple will refund this one book.

- Couldn’t put it down!5 star

This isn’t my normal go to thriller but it was recommended to me. The book goes back and forth between time lines telling stories. I thought this would bother me but I loved it! Couldn’t wait to get back to each story and find out what happens next. The stories have mystery, adventure, love and also pulled at my heart strings. There was never a dull moment in this book as I was always wanting to know what happened next.

- Could not put it down!5 star

The underlying theme of sisters is heart warming. The audio was nicely done.

- Beginnings don’t determine the outcome5 star

Heart wrenching story of children in orphan care and the secrecy and shame of their beginning. The determination to live a life keeping the beginning hidden.

- Loved it!5 star

Heartbreaking beautifully written story.

- Compelling5 star

As the story unfolds, going from the late 1930’s to the present, I found myself pulled into each of the characters. The author gives a face to a horrible time of injustice for the children in orphanages.

- Who was judy5 star

Cannot figure out who Judy was and how connected

- Super Read!4 star

Loved this book!

- Couldn’t put it down.5 star

I was in such a rut reading such horrible books and this was like a breath of fresh air. I fell in love with the characters and thought about them all day. I’m so sad the story is over

- Slow start, but keep reading!4 star

Slow start, but very good!

- Great read5 star

Interesting, sad, and well written,

- Before we were Yours5 star


- Before We Were Yours review5 star

Love this book. The content was disturbing but I could not put it down. A very sad time in history but a very good read.

- Truly Wonderful5 star

What a treat to read such a well-crafted story. The writing is rich with imagery. At times it is gripping and suspenseful and at others poignant and poetic. Tragedy, suspense, insight and wisdom intertwine creating a complex and moving song that squeezes ones heart.

- Shush SJSU’s she5 star


- Okay3 star

Could have been a good story, but to many wholes

- A Great read5 star

What a wonderful find! This book is so engrossing I couldn’t put it down. The story is so compelling and well written. It is one of my favorite books of the summer. I didn’t know the story behind this novel and it just mind blowing what these kids and families went through and how it went on for so long with out the public knowing or caring. It is really heartbreaking. I highly recommend this novel, can’t stop thinking about it.

- Before We Were Yours5 star

Excellent book. Loved the way the author wrote the story...easy to follow and the timelines flow seamlessly..hard to put down.

- Before we were yours5 star

Wonderful book couldn’t put it down

- Incredible!5 star

This book will grab your heart and soul, pull you in, and will not let you go until the last word on the last page. And even then, it will linger. Cancel all appointments, turn off your phone, put out the do not disturb sign, have food and drink ready, and prepare for an incredible journey that will give heart-rending insight into the recent outrageous border family separations. Incredible!

- Excellent!5 star

Loved it! Great story, was surprised to read that it had some factual background. Well done!

- Before We Were Yours.5 star

So sad. I cried many times while reading this book. It’s hard to grasp that, although this book is fiction, there are many real stories connected to this book.

- Couldn’t put it down!5 star

I don’t have a lot of time to read, so when I do, I don’t want to waste it on a so-so book. This was a good one to read on my short vacation. I couldn’t put it down!

- Before We Were Yours4 star

This book was so interesting, I couldn’t put it down. So sad knowing that children were stolen from their parents and treated so poorly. Very good read, I highly recommend this book!

- Good4 star

This was a very good book. I would recommend it.

- Before we were yours4 star

Interesting and haunting story of Tennessee adoption agency.

- Terrific Book!5 star

I could not put it down. I read it in 3 days. Absolutely loved it. Moved me in so many ways. Love love loved it.

- Amazing!5 star

I loved this book so much.

- Lovely story of reconnecting5 star

This story is interesting from page one to the end! I am not an avid book reader but this story gripped me in and had me searching for answers. The first person experiences from two characters gave the audience a sense of empathy and understanding. Thank you for writing this story and bringing attention to a hidden devastating event in history.


I absolutely loved this book. Very well written and extremely informative. Recommend it highly!!!!

- Before We Were Yours5 star

This book is really a 10 star book. Yes, the characters are fiction but have been put into a story that is , sickeningly, all too real. Unaware of any of this history prior to reading this book, I am awed by the writing, devastated by the reality, heartened by the hope and humbled by the idea of the music that we all live by. The references to the ‘ music’ of our pasts, present and future, are breathtaking. To ms. Wingate, thank you for writing this story.

- Before We Were Yours5 star

Fabulously written loved it

- Before we were yours5 star

My hear raced as I read each page, anxious to know what was next for the children. Heart wrenching story written so well.

- A must read5 star

This story is everything other reviewer says: powerful, eye opening, amazing. I cried all day while reading it.

- Moving story about how time and distance can’t keep sisters apart5 star

I stared this book a while back and set it aside partway through. It didn’t grab me in that initial sitting. I picked it back up a,d couldn’t put it down. Very compelling historical fiction.

- Page turner from start to finish!!!!!5 star

One of the best books I have ever read!! It’s one you can’t put down......reading well into the night......and picking back up first thing in the morning over coffee!! What a story!! I feel so connected with the characters and their lives! Fluids of emotions! Didn’t want to book to end! ❤️❤️❤️

- Before We Were Yours5 star

What a great read. Loved the writing and all of the characters. My only ended too soon.

- Before we were yours5 star

Amazing based on horrible tragedies committed against orphans and poor children for over two decades. I could not put it down. Literally cried boohoo tears and that has t happened in a long time. Wonderfully written. Thank you for this important story.

- Sorrowful and Gripping5 star

Before We Were Yours is an emotional read. It is especially poignant given that it is based on historical events. The story is told by two narrators in different time periods; the story lines eventually intersect. Ms. Wingate’s story is powerful. Her twelve-year-old narrator, Rill Foss tells the heart-wrenching story of the impact of the Georgia Tann/Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal on her family. Juxtaposed to the abject poverty of the depression-era Foss family is the present day affluence of the Stafford family. While Avery Stafford is being groomed to follow in her family’s political footsteps as well as become the perfect southern wife, she is busy discovering her grandmother’s secrets. Along the way, Avery discovers a few things about herself, the person she wants to be, and the sort of person who deserves her partnership in life. I loved Rill Foss’ story. Life on the river is simple, but her loving parents make it seem grand for her and her siblings. It is a compelling tale not only of family but also a widely unknown part of the Great Depression. I found present-day Avery Stafford’s story less interesting primarily because I would have expected a former federal prosecutor to have more sleuthing and deducing skills. Avery spends a lot of time perplexed by the evasive answers she receives from her grandmother and a mysterious senior in a nursing home. Avery also spends a great deal of time passively pondering her engagement to her childhood friend. I found this well-educated woman of means to be highly frustrating even though I know Avery’s story is drawn out to allow sufficient time for the Foss family drama to play out. It is not until Avery meets Trent Jr. that the modern day suspense builds to the point of almost equaling the heart-wrenching 1939 saga. The historic facts are well researched, and the plot flows easily. The meddling moms are a fun addition to the modern day story. Fact and fiction are wonderfully woven together, and Ms. Wingate provides several research resources for readers who would like to investigate the historical aspects of this book further. Before We Were Yours is ultimately redemptive, but the book as a whole is sad and mournful. The story continues to haunt me, and I’m sure Before We Were Yours will long be a book I use as a comparison for future reads. #MustRead2018 The audiobook is fantastically narrated by Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber.

- Very good5 star

Interesting story, developed characters, and nice writing style. Highly recommended.

- Before We Were Yours5 star

Wow! What a story! Thank you Lisa Wingate for writing this powerful tale so very well.

- Before we were yours4 star

Slow to get started, confusing at the beginning. But I really liked it and enjoyed the characters towards the middle and end. I would recommend this book to most of my friends.

- Such a great book5 star

I really enjoyed this. Though the story is fiction, it is based on true events. The book follows the main character and she is such an interesting person. Thoughout the book youre really rooting for her. Such a page turner! I finished this in a couple of days and didnt want it to end.

- Exceptional..another great read5 star

This is a must read! Although it is fiction, it is based on facts.. and the story is riveting and told in such a way as to keep you glued to the pages!

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- wonderful5 star

Although a little confusing at the beginning, because of the time switches. This is a terrific book. I would highly recommend reading.

- Wonderful Read!5 star

A truly captivating story about an unfortunate time for poor or neglected children in and around Memphis. It tells the tale of a family torn apart at the hands of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the uplifting story of reunion amongst siblings. A wonderful read!

- Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate5 star

Thoroughly enjoyed this book! Very well written along with a very interesting subject. Couldn’t put it down, and I look forward to reading more books by Ms. Wingate.

- Before we were yours5 star

Excellent read!

- Before we were yours5 star

Well written! The characters came to life from the very start. I experienced many emotions during this read which made it hard to put the book down. I was sad knowing the adventure was coming the end as I grew to love many characters I while immensely disliking others. In the acknowledgement after the story, I discovered this story was seasoned with facts about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society that will never leave me.

- Before We Were Yours5 star

This is a book not to miss. What could happen and did a lot of times is heart breaking. But for some they never forgot and kept looking

- Wow5 star

This book was incredible. Read until the very end. The true life facts surrounding this story are tragic and terrifying.

- Before we were yours.5 star

Best read in years. I normally don’t like when chapters skip back and forward in time but this was effortless. I felt as if I were there. Brilliant.

- Before We Were Yours5 star

Lisa has captured the essence of the lives of these children and their families. It is truly a story of survival, heartbreak, loyalty, and courage. For some in this story, courage came without pause, and for others, courage came in baby steps. It can take a lifetime to become courageous. June

- Badly written book - great topic3 star

I loved the topic, now reading one of the non fiction books about Tann. The book was not well written. I don’t know what the rave reviews were about!

- Great read5 star

Wonderful yet heartbreaking story.

- Before We Were Yours5 star

Outstanding book. Outrageous what happened to so many innocent victims.

- Left a lot of unknowns...3 star

I though it was a great book, but what happened to the other siblings?! I really liked how it went back and forth from past to present to tell the story.

- A real page turner5 star

The author expertly tells the gist of what is a true story through her fictional characters. I enjoyed the suspense she built by transferring between generations... her main child character enduring the nightmare of the orphanage juxtaposed with the other main character - a successful attorney in modern day who, in addition to finding out the truth about the orphanage, was also finding out who she wanted to be, even when her decisions conflicted with what her powerful family otherwise had in my mind for her. Families, Trent's story and son being another great example, are created and woven together in different ways. This book challenges the stereotype of family and showcases those special bonds we share with our heritage, our "roots." Well done!

- Fabulous5 star

Based on actual historic facts. Sad yet captivating story. I couldn’t put it down.

- One of my favorite books5 star

The author has created characters who seem real. I didn't want to quit reading and even thought about the characters when I wasn't reading the book. The story was fully developed and no part of it was left hanging. This is now my new favorite author.

- Before we were yours5 star

Reading this book for an upcoming book review really opened my eyes to the tragedy of greed for the love of money and power to control. Thank you for writing this book. I pray for the families that have experienced the forced loss of their children.

- Great book. Must read!4 star

This book is an emotional tour de force. You will not be able to put it down!

- Mojouoy huh2 star

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- Captivating5 star

The story grabs you and keeps you turning the page. Read the book in two sittings. The story makes you want to learn more about the history of the scandal.

- Captured from the beginning5 star

This story is heartbreaking but inspiring. The story telling of these sisters life and journey through unthinkable situations leaves you wanting more at every chapters end.

- Disappointing2 star

I wanted to love this book and really looked forward to reading it.... but I was sorely disappointed. The book is told from two points of view, through Rill Foss, one of the children affected by the adoption scandal and her siblings and in the present day through Avery (a descendent) who stumbles upon a family secret and struggles to solve the puzzle. We could have done without Avery, boring boring boring.... Rill’s family story was tragic yet the ending was all wrapped up in a sickly sweet happy ending.... the truth of this national disgrace is cheapened by the simplistic writing and clumsy plot...

- Before we were your,s5 star

A great book

- Before We Were Yours5 star

This book was so intriguing I could not put it down until I finished it! It was recommended to me by my sister! I am aware that this kind of thing happened years ago and really not so sure it doesn't still go on today! It is so sad! Human trafficking is a similar problem today! I am from a large family and I myself have 18 grandchildren and 4 great grands. I can't imagine losing one of them to either of these situations! I enjoyed reading this book and will now read others by this author! Thank you! Vivian Roffey East Peoria Il

- 🎀😍💖🤞🏻👌🏻5 star

Didn’t read it yet but I’ve bought the hardcover book and read the description and first page. By reading this I could already tell the book is outstanding as I hear the main character’s voice coming out of the book in my mind. From what I can tell the book is based on a story of children’s adoption and how the main character’s story or adventure began.

- Wonderfully written book about a very sad story.4 star

I’m good read! I just can’t believe this actually happened. Just horrible. The book keeps you guessing and wanting more. I enjoyed it.

- Amazing Read5 star

I never write reviews but HAD to write one for this amazing book. I read a lot and this book has become one of my favorites instantly. It is a beautiful story inspired by the truth that shows honor for the families and children while really keeping the reader engaged.

- Best book ever5 star

There are no words to describe how great this book is. I’ve read 100 books this year and this stands out as the best one by far. I want to read everything by this writer. The story was heartbreaking and I cried during parts but the beautiful writing glides you through it.

- Before We Were Yours5 star

Great story! Read it in 2 days. Couldn’t put it down!

- One of my favorites!!!5 star

I couldn’t put it down. It was finished within a week

- A page turner!5 star

Not only is this book based on a real historic event it is a page turner that I thoroughly enjoyed!

- Amazing book5 star

Compelling emotional story beautifully written couldn't put it down A journey worth taking

- So good.5 star

Sad but enthralling!!!

- Great book5 star

Having been adopted at birth ( to wonderful loving parents) this past week I found my birth fathers family, knowing my birth mother for over 15 years my recent discover made this a full circle, while never experiencing any of the trauma the persons in this book had..... this book really touched home for me... whether adopted or not I feel it’s a great read....I also feel everyone has the right to know their “roots”.

- Must read5 star

This book is an absolute must read. I could not put it down, and had to force myself to take time outs to get things done on my day off... Only to go right back to it anyway. The book is very well written, and also educational. I felt like I knew the characters myself, as the author did a splendid job in her character building. Very refreshing read!!

- Don’t Miss This One5 star

Beautifully told story that pulls and plays on every emotion. The author tells an amazing story and develops characters you really know.

- Wonderful story4 star

Excellent, couldn't put it down. Very believable.

- A great read!5 star

Super good!!

- Great read!5 star

This historical fiction is truly a wonderful page-turner!

- Amazing5 star

I couldn’t put it down

- Great read!5 star

Before We Were Yours is an excellent story. Hard to put down.

- Before We Were Yours5 star

This book is heart wrenching. To know that this actually happened to so many children is truly sad and breaks my heart. Read this book in a day. It's very hard to put down.

- Before we were yours5 star

Having lived in an orphanage as a child this spell binding book checked many boxes for me. I was immediately pulling for the family to succeed. Very well written and I am now a fan or Lisa Wingate.

- Before we were yours5 star

So glad my book club picked this book! The children in this book were strong & encouraging. The fact that Ms Tann got away with such child abuse is appalling. I am sad for each little soul that had to endure such hardship and for the parents whose children were taken away from their rightful family. A very moving story!

- Very nice book5 star

Great book. I enjoyed reading it very much. I loved learning about this piece of US history.

- Page Turner!5 star

Before We Were Yours will keep you coming back for more! An emotional roller coaster that gives you pause...didn't want it to end!

- Great book!5 star

The best book I've read in a long time. Couldn't put it down!

- Before We were Yours5 star

Could not put this book down!! Amazing story of fiction and facts!! Will definitely recommend.

- Engrossing4 star

This book is a page turner. The story flips between historically true tragedy of families and lives ripped apart to a gentle modern day version wherein the woman investigating this tragic past discovers she must also dismantle her own carefully orchestrated life to start a new true one for herself.

- Loved it!5 star

I could not put this book down! Some chapters pulled at my heartstrings while others left me hopeful. Such an amazing read

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@kobebryant I just realized that the low-flying helicopter we watched for 5 mins flying over our neighborhood was y…

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@AbRazaq: You were you, and I was I; we were two before our time. I was yours before I knew, and you have always  been mine too. ✒ Lan…

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@AbRazaq: You were you, and I was I; we were two before our time. I was yours before I knew, and you have always  been mine too. ✒ Lan…

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@AbRazaq: You were you, and I was I; we were two before our time. I was yours before I knew, and you have always  been mine too. ✒ Lan…

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@AbRazaq: You were you, and I was I; we were two before our time. I was yours before I knew, and you have always  been mine too. ✒ Lan…

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@blvck_Witch: @D7Hulk @Tested_Ceriouz @danieI_ike Breath before you explode. It’s not even this deep. Sorry you got offended at that. We…

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@D7Hulk @Tested_Ceriouz @danieI_ike Breath before you explode. It’s not even this deep. Sorry you got offended at t…

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@LisaWingate I just finished reading Before We Were Yours. I’m still crying for Camellia but I loved the book and…

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@The_Pig_Hotel Good Evening..We had a lovely meal at yours last Sunday evening. This was our last ‘supper’ before 2…

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When did we see each other face to face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that we were…

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Marked as to-read: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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💌🌹 Always You were you, and I was I; we were two before our time. I was yours before I knew, and you have always b…

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💌🌹 Always You were you, and I was I; we were two before our time. I was yours before I knew, and you have always b…

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💌🌹 Always You were you, and I was I; we were two before our time. I was yours before I knew, and you have always b…

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@EarthDesires: THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT - A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly Best Seller Before We Wer…

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