Before We Were Yours: A Review

September 1, 2017

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (cover) Image: 2 young girls sitting (backs to the camera) on an old fashioned brown suitcase

Genre/categories: historical fiction, adoption, family


Two timelines reveal this sad and heartfelt story that is based on one of America’s most tragic real-life scandals in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped, mistreated, and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.

In 1939, twelve-year-old Rill and her four younger siblings live with their free-spirited parents aboard a Mississippi River shanty boat near Memphis, Tennessee. They were poor but surrounded by fireflies and well-loved by their creative parents. One stormy night, the children are left alone when their father rushes their mother to the hospital. Strangers arrive and forcefully take the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, misleading them that they will be returned to their parents. The children quickly realize the disturbing truth and fight to survive and to stay together while enduring the cruelties of the facility’s director.

In the present day, when Avery returns home during her father’s health crisis, she is disturbed by her encounter with a woman at an assisted living facility. This event leads to her determined journey through her family’s long and hidden history for the answers to some uncomfortable questions.

Amazon Rating (August): (an impressive) 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

Although Before We Were Yours is an emotional and difficult read (it’s always difficult when innocent children are involved), it’s receiving great reviews and is a well-told, gripping story recounting the documented capture and mistreatment of children by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society Orphanage around 1939.

What it lacks in beautiful writing (the narrative seemed stiff at points and involved a lot of “telling”), it makes up for in inspiring themes of family loyalty, caring for the elderly, privilege, and truth-telling.

In addition, this page-turning story is filled with memorable characters. Of the two storylines, I thought the past storyline was better written and more engaging. This is probably due to hearing the story from the perspective of children. Overall, the story is riveting, the characters are memorable, and the ending is redemptive and uplifting.

Content Considerations: children separated from parents and siblings, mistreatment of children, cruelty to children

Recommended for readers who enjoy compelling historical fiction and unforgettable stories of redemption and for book clubs.

***Edited to add that if you enjoyed Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate has a nonfiction followup called Before and After: The Incredible Real Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

My Rating: 4 Stars


Before we Were Yours





Before We Were Yours Information Here

Meet the Author, Lisa Wingate

(love her emphasis on kindness and her tribute to teachers)

Author, Lisa Wingate

“Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the author of a host of literary works. Her novels have garnered or been short-listed for many awards, including 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.

IN THE WRITER’S OWN WORDS: 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.”


Have you read Before We Were Yours or is it on your TBR?

Happy Reading Book Worms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

Looking Forward:

Next week, if you’d like to “buddy read,” I’ll review Louise Penny’s Glass Houses, the recent installment (#13) of the Inspector Gamache series. In two weeks, I’ll review America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie (also my IRL book club pick!).

Glass Houses by Louise Penny (cover)

Glass Houses Information Here

America's First Daughter

America’s First Daughter Information Here

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  1. I just finished Before We Were Yours and really enjoyed it. Parts of it are very sad, but the author did a good job breaking up the sadness with other stories and giving hope. It pointed out the plight of the helpless who are not heard by authorities, like the children in the story. It is so sad to think of the thousands of children and families victimized by Georgian Tann. I also like the perspecive on protecting and honoring the elderly. Right before this I read Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. Enjoyed it, but found some of the concentration camp sections to be very difficult. It is based on the true story of an American women who , after the war, assisted Polish women who were victims of concentration camp medical experiments.

    I am listening to Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce by Eric Metaxas. Wilberforce was a member of Parliament and major force in the fight for abolition in Britain. Very inspirational and interesting. I also loved Metaxas’s biography of Bonhoeffer and his book on miracles.

    • Thanks for stopping in Susan and for your thoughtful reflections! I love your thoughts about protecting the helpless: the children and the elderly. I very much appreciated that aspect of “Before We Were Yours,” too. My favorite part about “Lilac Girls” was reading about the healing and restoration that was brought about by the efforts of Caroline. I loved that she was faithful and courageous to do her small part and it brought so much meaning for the girls who had been in the camp. It causes me to think about what I’m doing to make a difference in the world. Finally, I haven’t read “Amazing Grace” but I saw the film and it is profound and inspirational. One person can make such an important difference. I also loved Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer biography. Happy Reading Sue!

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