Book Review of Before We Were Yours

Lisa Wingate Published Before We Were Yours in 2017

If you enjoyed reading Orphan Train, you should love reading Before We Were Yours. As a kid who grew up next to the Mighty Mississippi, I understood the term “river rats” immediately. “Before We Were Yours” is a book that will grip your heart and inspire you to stand up against the social injustices that still define our country far too much. I remember the first time Grandma urged me to ‘get away from those river rats.’ I remember how big their eyes were and how dirty their clothes. Each of them was as skinny as a rail.

"Before We Were Yours" - Award Winning novel by Lisa Wingate
“Before We Were Yours” will grip your heart and never let go.

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • For readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale comes a “thought-provoking [and] complex tale about two families, two generations apart . . . based on a notorious true-life scandal.”*

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 guardians assure the Foss children that they will soon go home 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 redemption.

The book highlights one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals. 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.

Too Late A Scandal

I remember reading about Georgia Tann, and the scandal involving the Memphis based Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. In today’s climate, it no longer seems so far-fetched to believe something like this could happen in the United States. It should give us all pause to realize the rich can victimize the poor in more ways than an intelligent being can even imagine.

The story is about a fictional family of five children who witness their mother nearly die in childbirth. When things go wrong, their father puts her in a boat and heads for the hospital in Memphis. What happens next, will change everyone’s lives forever.

Two primary characters, two generations apart, tell the story. Rill is the oldest daughter of the riverboat family. When her parents don’t return, and the authorities claim her and her sisters and brother, Rill is determined to protect and save them all.

The Attorney

The other POV is from a young attorney in modern times who discovers her grandmother has a secret. Avery struggles to deal with the daily challenges of her father’s health and his duties as a Senator. Regardless of the southern ethic of hiding any ‘dirty laundry,’ Avery is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery in spite of how it may forever change her future.

There is no way you can read this book and not fall in love with all the children. I was angry when I first read about this disgusting Memphis history. Now, I want to find a way to reunite those lost to an immoral system that was bolstered by significant amounts of money changing hands.

Before We Were Yours might fill you with shame for what society did to its children. In today’s climate, perhaps that’s a good thing. Whatever you may think of the story woven from the facts of the case, it is forever too late to save the children lost forever and those who kept their abuse a secret.

Additional Review Comments:


“One of the year’s best books . . . It is almost a cliché to say a book is ‘lovingly written’ but that phrase applies clearly to Lisa Wingate’s latest novel Before We Were Yours. This story about children taken from their parents through kidnapping or subterfuge and then placed for adoption, for a price, clearly pours out of Wingate’s heart. . . It is impossible not to get swept up in this near-perfect novel. It invades your heart from the very first pages and stays there long after the book is finished. Few novelists could strike the balance this story requires but Wingate does it with assurance. There are a lot of books that will catch your eye this summer, some from our best storytellers. Make sure this one is on your radar. It should not be missed.”The Huffington Post


“Before We Were Yours is a powerful tale of family, of sisters, of secrets, kept and secrets shared. I absolutely loved this book. I’m still basking in the afterglow, in shock at the true-crime elements, in awe at the journey of these characters who seem to have immortal souls.”—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet


“Lisa Wingate takes an almost unthinkable chapter in our nation’s history and weaves a tale of enduring power. That Georgia Tann and her Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society could actually exist, unraveling the lives of countless children, stealing their pasts and changing their futures, will give you chills. But the real feat of this stirring novel is how deeply Wingate plunges us into the heart and mind of twelve-year-old river gypsy Rill Foss. Rill’s utterly singular voice will stay with you long after the last page is turned, as will Wingate’s courage to follow her anywhere. . . . Vivid and affecting.”—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of Circling the Sun

About Lisa Wingate:

Selected among BOOKLIST’S Top 10 for two years running, Lisa Wingate (author of Before We Were Yours) 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 achieved short-list for many awards.

These include

  • 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.


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 backflips 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.

You will find her other books on her Amazon Author Page.



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