"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"--
First of all, I am positive this would have been a better book if the author had 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.
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.
The genres of this novel are Women's Fiction and Historical Fiction. This story has fictional characters but is based on 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.
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 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.
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.
About halfway through 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.
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 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.
The book is written from two points of view. In the historical 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.
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 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
We read 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.
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
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 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.
This story juxtaposes between the lives of the Foss children and the present-day life of Avery Stafford, daughter of State Senator Stafford and a federal prosecutor, destined for a privileged life in the political arena if she follows in her father’s footsteps. Avery is resolute in uncovering the truth about her grandmother’s past, and in doing so, she discovers herself and how to move forward into the future.
This novel reminds me of ‘The Orphan Train,’ as they are both literary representations of the injustices and mistreatment of our youth in our nation’s history.
Rill/May is such a great character. To see the events through her eyes is such a roller coaster ride of emotions. I read this for my library book discussions and don't know if I would have picked it up otherwise. This is one of the rare times I am so glad I did. I can't wait to see what my two groups think about it!
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.