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Before We Were Yours
Cover of Before We Were Yours
Before We Were Yours
A Novel
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERFor 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...
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERFor 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...
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  • 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 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.
    *Library Journal
    Praise for Before We Were Yours
    "A [story] of a family lost and found . . . a poignant, engrossing tale about sibling love and the toll of secrets."People
    "Sure to be one of the most compelling books you pick up this year. . . . Wingate is a master-storyteller, and you'll find yourself pulled along as she reveals the wake of terror and heartache that is Georgia Tann's legacy."Parade

    "One of the year's best books . . . It is impossible not to get swept up in this near-perfect novel."The Huffington Post
    "Lisa Wingate takes an almost unthinkable chapter in our nation's history and weaves a tale of enduring power."—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of Circling the Sun

Excerpts-

  • From the book
    P R E L U D E

    Baltimore, Maryland


    AUGUST 3, 1939
    My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon. The room takes life only in my imaginings. It is
    large most days when I conjure it. The walls are white and clean, the bed linens crisp as a fallen leaf. The private suite has the very finest of everything. Outside, the breeze is weary, and the cicadas throb in the tall trees, their verdant hiding places just below the window frames. The screens sway inward as the attic fan rattles overhead, pulling at wet air that has no desire to be moved.
    The scent of pine wafts in, and the woman's screams press out as the nurses hold her fast to the bed. Sweat pools on her skin and rushes down her face and arms and legs. She'd be horrified if she were aware of this.
    She is pretty. A gentle, fragile soul. Not the sort who would inten- tionally bring about the catastrophic unraveling that is only, this mo- ment, beginning. In my multifold years of life, I have learned that most people get along as best they can. They don't intend to hurt anyone. It is merely a terrible by-product of surviving.
    It isn't her fault, all that comes to pass after that one final, merci- less push. She produces the very last thing she could possibly want. Silent flesh comes forth—a tiny, fair-haired girl as pretty as a doll, yet blue and still.
    The woman has no way of knowing her child's fate, or if she does know, the medications will cause the memory of it to be nothing but a blur by tomorrow. She ceases her thrashing and surrenders to the twilight sleep, lulled by the doses of morphine and scopolamine ad- ministered to help her defeat the pain.
    To help her release everything, and she will.
    Sympathetic conversation takes place as doctors stitch and nurses clean up what is left.
    "So sad when it happens this way. So out of order when a life has not even one breath in this world."
    "You have to wonder sometimes . . . why . . . when a child is so very wanted . . ."
    A veil is lowered. Tiny eyes are shrouded. They will never see.
    The woman's ears hear but cannot grasp. All slips in and slips away. It is as if she is attempting to catch the tide, and it drains through her clenched fingers, and finally she floats out along with it.
    A man waits nearby, perhaps in the hallway just outside the door. He is stately, dignified. Unaccustomed to being so helpless. He was to become a grandfather today.
    Glorious anticipation has melted into wrenching anguish.
    "Sir, I am so terribly sorry," the doctor says as he slips from the room. "Rest assured that everything humanly possible was done to ease your daughter's labor and to save the baby. I understand how very difficult this is. Please offer our condolences to the baby's father when you are finally able to reach him overseas. After so many disap- pointments, your family must have held such great hope."
    "Will she be able to have more?" "It isn't advisable."
    "This will be the end of her. And her mother as well, when she learns of it. Christine is our only child, you know. The pitter-patter of little feet . . . the beginning of a new generation . . ."
    "I understand, sir."
    "What are the risks should she . . ."
    "Her life. And it's extremely unlikely that your daughter would ever carry another pregnancy to term. If she were to try, the results could be . . ."
    "I see." The doctor lays a comforting hand on the heartbroken man, or this is the way it happens in my imaginings. Their gazes tangle.
    The physician looks over his shoulder to be certain that the nurses cannot hear. "Sir, might I suggest something?" he says quietly,...

About the Author-

  • Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Her work has won or been nominated for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT Reviewers' Choice Award. Wingate lives in the Ouachita Mountains of southwest Arkansas.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 17, 2017
    Wingate’s tightly written latest (after 2015’s The Sea Keeper’s Daughters) follows the interwoven story lines of Avery Stafford, a lawyer from a prominent South Carolina family, and Rill Foss, the eldest of five children who were taken from their parents’ boat by an unscrupulous children’s home in the 1930s. With her father’s health ailing, duty-driven Avery is back in present-day Aiken, S.C., to look after him. She’s being groomed to step into his senate seat and is engaged to her childhood friend, Elliot, though not particularly excited about either. Though her dad is a virtuous man, his political enemies hope to spin the fact that the family just checked his mother, Judy, into an upscale nursing home while other elder facilities in the state suffer. At an event, Avery encounters elderly May Crandall and becomes fascinated by a photo in her room and a possible connection to Judy. While following a trail that Judy left behind, Avery joins forces with single dad Trent Turner, with whom she feels a spark. This story line is seamlessly interwoven with that of the abuse and separation that the Foss siblings suffer at the hands of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a real-life orphanage that profited from essentially kidnapping children from poor families and placing them with prominent people. Twelve-year-old Rill bears the guilt of not having been able to protect her siblings while also trying her best to get them home. Wingate is a compelling storyteller, steeping her narrative with a forward momentum that keeps the reader as engaged and curious as Avery in her quest. The feel-good ending can be seen from miles away, but does nothing to detract from this fantastic novel.

  • Kirkus

    April 1, 2017
    Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children's Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father's cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family's past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients--including Joan Crawford and June Allyson--are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate's fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book. Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2017
    Two-time Carol Award winner Wingate offers a heartbreaking tale based on true events: from the 1930s through 1950, Georgia Tann's Tennessee Children's Home Society kidnapped thousands of mostly poor children for sale in illegal adoptions nationwide. This novel tracks the consequences for one group of siblings, taken in 1936 Memphis.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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