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.
Synopsis from hardcover book, 342 pages, copyright 2017 and published by Ballantine Books.
We chose Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate for our book club reading because we love to read historical fiction. What’s a better book to read than the winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for historical fiction 2017? Moreover, it’s based on historical facts.
I haven’t read any of Lisa Wingate’s books but I had heard great things about Before We Were Yours, so going in I had high expectation for this historical fiction.
How did it fair? Well, it didn’t disappoint! It meet my expectations and was a great read.
Here’s what I liked:
Before We Were Yours is a character driven book, which I loved.
The story is about the Foss children who are stolen from their riverboat on the Mississippi river and are put into the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an orphanage that is ran by a cruel Miss Tann, who systematically kidnapped children of the poor and ‘sold’ them to the rich.
I loved reading this part of the book which is set in 1930s, and following Rill’s story. It was sad and heart-wrenching reading about Rill’s experiences at the orphanage.
The story is also about Avery and her investigation into her family history. This part of the story was a little of light relief that includes a budding romance and her piecing together the past and the present.
Wingate style of prose is superb.
I found Before We Were Yours compelling and a page turner. The fact that it was based on a real person, Georgia Tann, made this book really intriguing. It’s a startling revelation to me to discover the network of child trafficking that was going on in 1930s. The horrific things Miss Tann did in order to amass wealth was horrendous.
I enjoyed the tone of Before We Were Yours. It is bittersweet, heart-wenching and uplifting (in the end part). The strength of Wingate’s prose was how it stirred my emotions.
This character driven book has some interesting and well developed characters.
One of my favorite character is Rill Foss. Rill is only 12 when she and her siblings are put into an orphanage. She is headstrong and brave. We see her strength when she makes plan to run away from the orphanage but she backs out because she couldn’t leave a child undefended. She sees it as her responsibility to protect her siblings and make sure they are okay.
I also enjoyed Avery Stafford‘s character. Avery is a rounded typed of person and seems to have it all. She is sensible yet will take risks. I liked that as she journeyed into her family history she begins to change and embrace the new discoveries, not only about herself but her family.
After reading about Rill’s horrible experiences at the orphanage, it’s nice to get to a happy ending. There was a surprise in the story which I didn’t see coming and that made the book even more likable.
It was satisfying to have the past and present tied up and see what the connection was between May and Avery’s grandma Judy.
My Final Thoughts
I loved Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. This character driven book is definitely worth the read. It is compelling and a page-turner. The story line is based on the real historical facts which makes the story interesting. It is sad and bittersweet at times because of the illegal methods of adoption that was used, but the story does take a turn and the future is not so bleak.
I highly recommend Before We Were Yours if you love historical fiction and character driven books.
Don’t forget to check out Before We Were Yours book club discussion questions.
Have you read Before We Were Yours? What are your thoughts? Does this book interest you?