Before We Were Yours: A Novel

by Lisa Wingate

Hardcover, 2017




Ballantine Books (2017), Edition: First Edition, 352 pages


"Memphis, Tennessee, 1936. The five Foss children find their lives changed forever when their parents leave them alone on the family shantyboat one stormy night. Rill Foss, just twelve years old, must protect her four younger siblings as they are wrenched from their home on the Mississippi and thrown into the care of the infamous Georgia Tann, director of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. South Carolina, Present Day. Avery Stafford has lived a charmed life. Loving daughter to her father, a U.S. Senator, she has a promising career as an assistant D.A. in Baltimore and is engaged to her best friend. But when Avery comes home to help her father weather a health crisis and a political attack, a chance encounter with a stranger leaves her deeply shaken. Avery's decision to learn more about the woman's life will take her on a journey through her family's long-hidden history"--… (more)


(973 ratings; 4.1)

User reviews

LibraryThing member TheYodamom
Historical fiction done right can be a fascinating read. This was done right, with well developed characters, excellent time line switches and what a connection at the end. This horrendous story of child snatching, murder, greed and abuse is not all dark there is good even in the darkest moments.
Show More
Rill one of 5 children taken from their parents riverboat in the 1930's while their mother and father rush to a Doctor when she's in a difficult labor. Rill clings to hope that her father and mother will come rescue her, while watching in hopelessness as her siblings slowly disappear. Current time Avery, a lawyer from a political family stumbles into a woman who grabs her bracelet and open's pandoras box into a dark time and some ugly truths. Watching these two time lines slowly come together was heartbreaking at times and heartwarming at others. The strength to survive and flourish is so strong. the loses so horrifying. I wanted to step back into time and stop The Children's Home Society and strangle Georgia Tann.
Show Less
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
I tried to finish this book, but I just couldn't do it. When it got to the point where I found it far more annoying than anything, I had to call it quits, and for what it's worth, that was around the halfway point.

First of all, I am positive this would have been a better book if the author had
Show More
stuck to the past and written a more traditional piece of historical fiction. The history this book is loosely inspired by is as fascinating as it is heartbreaking, and I imagine I really would have enjoyed the book if it had kept more to the past, or even simply been a history book about that past. Instead, the jumps into the present ruined it for me, and to be honest, it's hard for me to understand why so many people have praised the book as they have. Perhaps if the book had chosen a genre--historical fiction Or romance Or women's fiction Or drama Or mystery--it would have been better, but as is, I just find that I'm rather disgusted with it.

The book goes back and forth between a child's past in 1939 and an adult woman's present in the present day, and I can't tell you what a problem that is. The present-day sections are so trite, so ridiculously over-the-top in what the author is trying to do, and the characters so flat and stereotypical, it's a little bit infuriating. The present-day sections do nothing less than cheapen the history and the sections told in the past. And here's the thing: I grew up in the south. I've spent a fair amount of time in the towns that this author chooses to use as her setting for the present day... and this book feels like it makes a mockery of them, offering some odd ideal of what an upper-class woman must be in that world. Much of what comes across practically bleeds not just sentimentalism and casual racism, but a stereotype of the south which is the very stereotype most Southerners recognize only as Hollywood stereotype. Add in the casual higher-than-thou attitude and the over-the-top focus on thoughts of feminism vs. tradition alongside self-absorbed righteousness, and it's all just too much to take.

Halfway through the book, I didn't want the narrator of the present-day sections to find a way out of her loveless, society-approved relationship and find closure about her family and her grandmother. I wanted her to walk into the ocean and disappear from the book so that I could just enjoy the chapters written from the child's voice in 1939. I imagine you'll ask why I didn't just keep reading those chapters, and skip the others--and the truth is I thought about it. But in all reality, I wasn't enjoying them so much as I wasn't annoyed by them, and I'd much rather read a history book to get any insight into the history touched on here--and, for me, that's not normal.

So, no, I wouldn't recommend this book. I couldn't finish it, and I'll be sure to never pick up another book by Wingate. Regardless of the awards--which I can only guess were awarded by people who had a very particular idea of the South that was mostly driven by wishful nostalgia or stereotype--I don't think much of anything of this book, and I'm sorry to have spent money on it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member librarygeek33
The subject matter was the real star of this story. I particularly was interested in the parts written by the voices of the children. The viewpoint of the present-day granddaughter kind of annoyed me. I thought it was unnecessary to add the romance and the class bias to make the story fly. The
Show More
story of the horrendous harm that was done by Georgia Tann and her accomplices at the Tennessee Children's Home Society was more than enough to carry the book. I'm probably in the minority on that.
Show Less
LibraryThing member she_climber
Such a heart-breaking but intriguing story of siblings poor but loved and happy living with their parents on a shantyboat along the Mississippi River during the depression. The children were ripped from their home and stuck in children's home where they were beaten, starved, and worse. Then
Show More
separated and sold off to wealthy adoptive parents....and it's a TRUE STORY! The woman behind the atrocities actually did this!

I didn't care for the back and forth with the present day, although I get the why, and I liked the tie up at the end. But I found myself rushing through the present day with Avery Stafford to get back to Rill Foss.
Show Less
LibraryThing member debkrenzer
** spoiler alert ** Oh, just finished reading this book. The emotions I felt while reading this book and then to find out that while fictional, the adoption director was a real life person and these things did happen to real children. I am blown away that this could happen. Apparently, Mrs. Tann's
Show More
heart was removed much earlier in her life and she has absolutely no feelings for humans as this was just a career for her. What a greedy woman she was!! Unfortunately cancer got her before she could be subjected to prison and maybe receive "some" of the treatment that was suffered by the wards of the state that she got illegally. Some still even had parents. In my mind, she did not suffer enough, greedy witch.

That aside, this was such an emotional read. (Yes, tissues needed) It was definitely a thought provoking, malice provoking read. I sped through reading this emotional tale because:
1. I was aghast that a woman could be that greedy and use children this way.
2. I was aghast that so many "upstanding?" humans used her services. But to be fair, they weren't aware of the behind the scenes lives these children were living. And unfortunately, those ghastly behind the scenes horrors the children were living were AFTER this woman abducted, stole, coerced parents and totally abused the system.

I feel in love with the children from the Kingdom of Arcadia. The author did a great job with this story and I was thoroughly entertained. This was my first book by this author and I will definitely keep her in mind in the future to read more of her books.

Huge thanks to Random House/Ballantine for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member juliecracchiolo
Warning: Don’t start this novel unless you have plenty of time to read because you won’t be able to stop reading.

Wingate has taken a footnote from history and turned into a page-turner. The reality of the story is Georgia Tann and her Tennessee Children’s Home Society. On the outside, the
Show More
home appears to be just like any of the other orphanages that are common in 1930s America. But Tann had a dirty secret. She stole children from rural, poverty-stricken areas, then sold them to wealthy clients, charging absorbent fees and treating the children as if they were a piece of garbage.

Based on this solid fact and careful research, Wingate creates a Mississippi River family whose home is a shantyboat named the Arcadia in 1936. The Great Depression is raging across America, so life on the river isn’t so bad…at least they always have something to eat.

The five children and their parents, Briny and Queenie, lead a wanderer’s existence, traveling up and down the river. The kids get schooling here and there, but they seem to always be on the move to where the fishing is better and the weather is warmer. When Queenie goes into labor and a river midwife can’t help her deliver, Briny is forced to leave the boat and take his wife to a Memphis hospital. Twelve-year-old Rill is left to care for the boat and her four siblings.

The parents have been gone a couple of days when strangers passing as the law come to collect the children, telling them they only be staying at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society until their parents can come and collect them. The abuse they endure at the hands of Tann and her minions are criminal.

Then flash forward to contemporary time. Avery Stafford and her father, Senator Stafford, have returned to South Carolina for the Senator’s health issues. Avery is being groomed to take his place in the Senate, following in her father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. But it’s a chance meeting with an elderly woman during a nursing home photo opp, that changes her life forever.

The encounter compels Avery to dig through her family’s history to try to determine what the elderly woman and her dementia-addled grandmother have in common.

Waving between past and present, this is the story of how one family’s past has shaped its present. A highly compulsive read, the characters are complex and well-drawn. Before We Were Yours receives 6 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.
Show Less
LibraryThing member teachlz
I would like to thank Random House Publishing Group-Ballantine and Lisa Wingate for the ARC (advanced reading copy) of "Before We Were Yours" by Lisa Wingate for my honest review.
The genres of this novel are Women's Fiction and Historical Fiction. This story has fictional characters but is based on
Show More
the true scandal with Georgia Tann and the Memphis Adoption home. Children were kidnapped, and disadvantaged parents would sign papers unaware that their children were being sold to wealthy families for profit. There were reported cases of abuse and deaths at this Adoption home. Georgia Tann had many top Politicians and the law by her side, depriving the children of their rights, and treating them as chattel
The timeline and places for this story are in the past, 1939 in Memphis Tennessee, and in the present time in South Carolina.
The characters are described as complicated and complex. Georgia Tann is described as evil, dangerous, manipulative, and corrupt. Most of the employees that worked for Georgia Tann turned a blind eye, and some were sadistic and were bullies.
The author describes the children as innocent, frightened , scared, confused. Some of the children were brave and courageous.
In "Before We Were Yours", Lisa Wingate tells the story about a family that lives in a shanty by the river.The mother is having a difficult time delivering twins, and has to be moved to get medical help. In the time that the parents are gone, the children are taken by the local law officials and placed in the Memphis Adoption Agency.
I appreciate the way that Lisa Wingate writes about the hard times at the adoption home where the children are brought. I could feel my heart break at some of the parts in this story. The storytelling shifts between the past and the present.
Avery is a prominent attorney part of a wealthy and politically active family. Her father is in a political high political position. One of the discussions they are in involve nursing homes, and how the elderly are treated.
At one of the homes that they visit, an older resident calls Avery a different name, and insists that they know each other. This starts Avery on an adventure to discover her family and her self.
I like the way the author writes about betrayal, loyalty, and secrets. The author also describes family, friends, trust, love and hope, The author makes me think, what is the cost for searching for the truth? How could this scandal go on for so long and cause the consequences that it did for many families and children?
I would highly recommend this intriguing novel, and look forward to reading more from the author. There are some Kleenex moments.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Beamis12
No matter how many stories are for, book written it seems there is a neverending supply of man's inhumanity to others still to be told. The culture, silence and greed necessary to let this type of evil perpetuate and grow. The Tennessee Children's society is the focus of this novel, harm against
Show More
the helpless and most vulnerable among us and the poor who did not have the resources necessary to fight back. Hidden within in plain sight, this place flourished in it's cruelty and money making by the silence of those who knew and should have spoken, but didn't.

Two alternate stories, one in the past narrated by a young girl, whose brother and three sisters were taken from their parents and taken to this horrible place. Children were not treated well here, punished severely for minor indescretions and fed as little as possible. Blonde children were particularly valuable as they were more easily adopted, bringing the larger sums of money to it's notorious founder. Her story is heartbreaking, and though hers is a made up character her story is representative of many that were factual. The modern day story follows a grown woman, Avery, from a prestigious family who wants to find the truth about her beloved grandmother, now suffering from dementia, life and her own family background.

I readily admit to liking the former story more, the writing is finer, the characters more fleshed out, the plot tighter and their story more interesting. I did like how the stories come together in the end. All in all, the author did a fine job with this book and bringing to light another little known injustice. Of course these type and other injustices are not just confined to the past, and I can't help thinking about the injustices being committed in our present that readers will read about fifty years from now. Something to think about.

ARC from Netgalley
Show Less
LibraryThing member Mizroady
From the first time I read a book by Ms. Wingate, she captivated me with her stories and writing. I was very excited to read this book and it far surpassed my expectations.
I am intrigued my fictional novels that are based on true stories. The facts are true but how they are made play out in the
Show More
characters’ stories lies in the hands of the author. Through Lisa Wingate’s talent and writing skill, these individuals were literally brought to life, so much so I had to keep reminding myself they were fictional!
Until this novel I had never heard of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society spearheaded by Georgia Tann. From the 1920’s through 1950’s, hundreds of children were kidnapped by abduction or trickery from loving and caring parents. Until they were adopted by wealthy or famous people, for a hefty fee, they suffered unimaginable physical abuse, sexual assault, neglect, and with some even death.
In 1939 a young girl, Rill, and her siblings lived happily in poverty on a house boat with their parents. While her father and mother were at the hospital welcoming another child they were snatched away and taken to one of Ms. Tann’s “homes”. That was when the nightmare began. As if the heartbreak of being separated from their parents was not enough, Rill also felt the pain of trying to protect her younger siblings and keep them together in an environment of cruelty and violence.
My heart broke at the horrors these children encountered. I never imagined!
The chapters alternate from Rill’s narrative to Avery Stafford in the present day. Avery is 30, wealthy, privileged and the member of a prestigious political family, totally opposite to Rill’s experience. When Avery attends a nursing home tour a resident appears to recognize her. She returns to visit her. In a sepia photo in May Crandall’s room she sees a family. One of the children strongly resembles her grandmother. She cannot get it out of her mind and begins to relentlessly seek out answers about her Grandma Judy’s past. Could May be a part of that past? Due to dementia claiming her grandmother’s once sharp mind she cannot ask her questions. It’s all up to Avery. What secrets will she unearth? How will they change her and her family’s lives? I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! An incredible book with an amazing story!
Thank you, Lisa Wingate, for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book. The opinions I have stated are my own.
Show Less
LibraryThing member alekee
As this story begins we see a poor family who live on the Mississippi river in a shantyboat, poor yes, but for the five children the life is ideal. Then the unthinkable happens and everything they have ever known is torn away, and where they are taken, I wouldn’t want my dog to live there.
We read
Show More
this story though the eyes to two strong women, one a survivor May, Rill Foss, and the other being groomed to be a U.S. Senator, Avery Stafford, taking her Dad’s seat.
As I was reading, my heart kept telling me “no”, but when you finish this story, and I had to google ahead and find out, this is a fictional story about a true happening. The injustice of it all, and when you see no one was brought to justice for ruining so many lives, it will break your heart.
The author did such a marvelous job with this story and kept me page turning, and yes the secrets come out, at least in our family scenario. There are so many heart-breaking scenes here, but when you meet the survivors they are elderly, and this is their story.
Thank you Lisa Wingate for doing such a marvelous job with this book, I am sure it was a hard story to tell.
I received this book through Net Galley and the Publisher Ballantine Books, and was not required to give a positive review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member hollysing
Georgia Tann, who kidnapped and sold children to wealthy families, ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in the 1030’s. Lisa Wingate’s book is a scathing expose of atrocities surrounding the treatment of these children.

The book is written from two points of view. In the historical
Show More
narrative Rill struggles to protect her younger siblings removed from the family to a home for orphans. Avery represents the contemporary story. While concerned for her grandmother’s loss of memory, she discovers another woman in a nursing home, strongly resembling her grandmother. The connection between these stories plays out later in the story.

Powerful reads like Ms. Wingate’s are often disturbing. Before We Were Yours stirs powerful emotions. The writing is first rate. The struts of the book are the strong characters she creates, based on real stories. Perseverance under oppression, hope, and human resilience are the main themes.

Highly recommended,Before We Were Yours is a heart-wrenching novel that held my attention from the first page to the last.

I thank NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for my unbiased review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member melaniehope
Fascinating story that was based on the true story of a black market child adoption scheme that ran out of the unlicensed Tennessee Child Home Society. It is amazing that this home ran from the 1920's to 1950's before it was shut down.
The author brings this story to us by introducing us to a family
Show More
of five children who were taken by authorities after their parents were tricked into signing papers at the hospital they were told would help them with medical fees. Twelve year old Rill does everything in her power to keep her brothers and sisters together, but one by one, they disappear to other families. The book is also told from the point of view of wealthy Avery Stafford in the present day. After a chance encounter with an elderly woman at a retirement community, she begins to discover that her grandmother has a secret life and she sets out to discover more. Wonderful book that was so well written! I received a complimentary ebook from the publisher in exchange for a review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Bookishleigh
"Before We Were Yours" tells a horrifying story based Georgia Tann and The Tennessee Children's home which she used as a mean for child trafficking starting from the Depression era through 1950 when she died. Through a dual timelines one starting in 1939 and current day the author tells the tale
Show More
that connects a dynastic American political family, to the 9 children of a impoverished family of river folk who were stolen away from their parents, how they were separated and how they fought to be reunited. Ms. Wingate paints an extremely realistic portrayal of how actual children were taken from their families and sold as property while authorities were either corruptly involved or chose to look the other way. Masterfully "Before We Were Yours" hurdles the reader through the historical ugliness of the past and current day and subtly questions character of any society that turns it's back on or take advantage of it's weakest and least powerful members whether they be children, the elderly, the disabled, or the poor. This is my first experience reading Ms. Wingate's work and I was thoroughly impressed by this powerful story and look forward to diving into the author's back list.
Show Less
LibraryThing member susan0316
This was a beautifully written, truly heartbreaking story that was made even worse when I realized that it was based on real life events. Lisa Wingate has done a fantastic job of making this history real with well written characters and a dual story line.

The book starts in 1939 when 12 year old
Show More
Rill Foster lives on a shanty boat on the Mississippi river with her parents and 4 siblings. When the parents leave the boat (the mom is having problems delivering the newest member of the family), the boat is raided and the children are taken to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Even though the children are told that they will be returned to their parents, the people who run the orphanage have plans to sell them to people who want to adopt children. Rill's story is built up in ever other chapter in the book. The present day main character, Avery, has returned home from NYC to help her father, a member of Congress, with his daily activities due to a health scare. She was born into a life of wealth and privilege but worked very hard to become a top notch lawyer in NY. She gets a hint of a secret in her family's past and won't be content until she solves her family mystery. Usually in two time line books, I like one story more than the other but I enjoyed Avery's story as much as I did Rill's.

This beautifully written, very well researched book will stay with you long after the last page has been read. Knowing that this is based on history and reading articles about it after I finished the book made the story even more heartbreaking.
Show Less
LibraryThing member beckyhaase
A beautifully written and very disturbing story about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, the woman who ran it, and the children and families who were affected. Rill, a 12 year old “river rat,” and her brothers and sisters are forcibly removed from their
Show More
home when their parents are away. They fall into the hands of Georgia Tann (a real person) and the TCHS(a real facility).
The characters, real and imaginary, have clear personalities. The action is real and terrifying. The time and place are vividly shown.
If you have children, or work with them, or just know a few, this tale of real events in the not distant past is horrifying. Book groups will have a field day with discussions of family, love, poverty, discipline, adoption, heartache, sacrifice and hope.
5 of 5 stars
Show Less
LibraryThing member LisaSHarvey

MY RATING ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
PUBLISHER Ballantine Books
PUBLISHED June 6, 2017
NARRATOR Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS is a thought-provoking and masterfully-told story of a family torn apart by one unscrupulous woman.

In Memphis
Show More
1939, 12 year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live happily on her family’s Mississippi River shanty boat called the Arcadia. But one stormy evening Rill’s father has to rush her pregnant mother to the hospital. In the morning Rill spots a policeman on the river bank approaching the boat. She doesn't know what to do. Ultimately she is left with no decision but to take her siblings and go with the policeman. They are thrown into the hand of Georgia Tan and the Tennessee Children's Home Society and their lives were never the same.

In Aiken, SC 2016, Avery Stafford, a successful federal prosecutor has returned home to help her father, a U. S. senator weather a health crisis. Avery was born into wealth and privilege and is engaged to her handsome childhood friend. A chance encounter with a women resident at a nursing home has her curiosity bubbling. When she asks her Grandma Jane about the mysterious woman, she hears the name Arcadia for the first time. But what is Arcadia, a place, a person or something else? Avery is compelled to find if there is a connection between her family and this lonely woman in the nursing home.

Everyone should read this book to ensure we all learn from the mistakes of the past. This story is fiction, but is based on one of America's most notorious real-life scandals. Georgia Tann, who was director of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country from the 1920-50’s. LISA WINGATE’s writing is fabulous and the story which she has creatively woven is both gut-wrenching and riveting. Reading BEFORE WE WERE YOURS is like floating in the rushing currents of the Savannah River, it’s fast and fabulous. It’s a book you will be thinking about long after you turn the last page. Make sure you read the author note at the end too! It’s powerful and maddening!

I listened to the Audible version of the book and the narrators Emily Rankin and Catherine Taber were superb and gave breath to the story.
Show Less
LibraryThing member bookczuk
Lovely story, interweaving two tales of what makes family, and bringing to light the heartbreaking wound in our national history that was the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, where children were torn from their birth families, placed in appalling conditions in orphanages/foster homes, and
Show More
(those lucky enough to survive) adopted as orphans by unsuspecting families bereft of children. The modern day story of a young, South Carolina lawyer, being groomed to take up the mantel of her aging father, the esteemed senator, is unfolded between that of Rill, the eldest sibling of five "river gypsies", stolen from their parents and delivered to the Tennessee Children's Home Society.
Show Less
LibraryThing member claudia.castenir
No work of fiction has touched my heart as deeply as Before We Were Yours, not even The Memory Keeper’s Daughter or The Secret Life of Bees. I would definitely put this book in the league with those titles and To Kill A Mockingbird. That is high praise indeed in my book.
About halfway through
Show More
Before We Were Yours, I felt compelled to do a little online research of The Tennessee Children’s Home Society and Georgia Tann. How I had not heard of Tann and the Memphis branch of this society that operated from the 1920s through the 1950s, I cannot imagine. Tann arranged thousands of questionable adoptions. She and her network of informants tricked uneducated parents, poor parents, and single parents into surrendering their children, others were simply stolen off porches, on their way to school, and other places children might be found without adult supervision. In addition to the thousands that were adopted out, often to the crème of society, hundreds did not survive the life they were forced to live within the wall of homes run by Tann and the society. Most biological parents never knew what had happened to their children.
While the sons and daughters of Queenie and Briny Foss were fictional characters. Their experience with the Tennessee Children’s Home Society mirrored those of real life victims. Wingate tells their story in such a way that the reader is fully engrossed and completely overwhelmed with the raw emotion evoked by the tale. I found myself praying for those real-life children and families who were victimized in this decades-long tragedy. While this book is no fluffy beach read, I would suggest that if you don’t read any other book this summer, read this one.
I thank Ballantine Books a division of Random House and NetGalley for making this book available in exchange for my honest review. I received no monetary compensation for providing this review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member EllenH
Great historical fiction! I had read the nonfiction versions of this before and found she got the story right on! Could be a good Book Club read.
LibraryThing member BarbraH
This is a beautifully written heartbreaking story about a dark time in our country. It is sad that there was a time when children were stolen and "sold" to adoptive families. Lisa Wingate tells this story in a beautiful way and I couldn't put it down. A really good read!
LibraryThing member Sandralb
Lisa Wingate has a style of writing that captures you right away. I couldn't wait to read this novel, I had seen such great reviews for it. I have read other works by her and have never been disappointed. I was unaware of the story line she writes about in Before We Were Yours. It was a very sad
Show More
and tragic story in some ways, I found myself with tears in my eyes several times. It has a very sweet love story that builds slowly. It has the characters you love and are really pulling for and the ones you love to hate. After hearing about The Tennessee Children's Association, I couldn't wait to research and read more. I would recommend this book. It's educational, interesting and well worth the read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jfe16
For the Foss family, a shantyboat on the Mississippi River is home. One night, Rill’s father must rush her mother to the hospital, leaving Rill in charge of her three younger sisters and her brother. But the children are snatched from their home and taken to an orphanage where the heinous Georgia
Show More
Tann sells the poor children she’s so cavalierly kidnapped.
A chance meeting between wealthy, privileged Avery Stafford and a woman in a nursing home puts Avery on a path of discovery that is destined to change everything she knows about herself and her family.

As the riveting fictional tale of Rill Foss and her siblings unfolds, this heart-wrenching narrative alternates between her 1939 story and Avery’s present-day narrative. Based on the gruesome truth of children stolen and sold to wealthy families, this can’t-put-it-down book captures the horror, the grief, the panic of those Little Ones who endured so many horrors, revealing it so well that, at times, readers need to momentarily set it aside, take a deep breath, and hug their children.

Highly recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Cariola
Wingate uses the tried-and-true (if by now rather cliché) two-narrator strategy, one a contemporary young woman and the other a child living around 1940. Avery, a lawyer, is the daughter of an ailing South Carolina senator who is being groomed to take over what has become an almost-hereditary post
Show More
(her grandfather also held the senatorial seat). She's engaged to a young man she has known since childhood and is particularly close to her grandmother, an Alzheimer's sufferer who recently moved into a cushy nursing home. While visiting her grandmother one afternoon, Avery runs into another resident, May Weathers, who mistakenly calls her Fern. A photograph of four sisters in May's room attracts her attention--because she recognizes one of them as Grandmother Judy. This sets Avery on a search for the connection between the two women.

The other narrator, Rill Foss, is the eldest of five children--"river rats"--living with their parents in a houseboat. When Rill's mother goes into a difficult labor and has to be taken to the hospital, she is left, with the help of an old man and a teenage boy, to watch over her siblings. Instead, the police arrive and take the children into custody, claiming that their mother gave birth to twins that died and their parents signed them over to the state. The Foss children become victims of a real-life scandal: Georgia Tann, director of the Memphis Tennessee Children's Home Society, made millions of dollars kidnapping children from poor families and selling them to wealthy adoptive parents. Rill tells the story of their time at one of Tann's group homes and of her struggle to keep the siblings together and reunite them with their parents.

Rill's story is both fascinating and brutal, but the "mystery" that Avery tries to unravel is rather dull and, unfortunately, falls into the expected romance. The characters in this modern-day narrative are all rather weak and cliché, especially her mother, the typical sugar-coated, socially ambitious Southern woman who is hard as nails beneath the surface. Wingate uses Avery as the means to connect to Rill's story--a connection that, again, is perhaps a a little too facile.
Show Less
LibraryThing member SallyCrosiar
Liked it, didn't love, love, love it.
LibraryThing member galoma
Riveting from start to finish.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

9.53 inches


0425284689 / 9780425284681
Page: 0.4799 seconds