FAW Chicago, IL Est. 1922
FAW Book Reviews

Before We Were Yours: A Novel
By Lisa Wingate

352 pages, Ballantine Books (June, 2017)

Reviewed by Karen Baker
December, 2017

I was looking for a new book to read while traveling and opened the website Goodreads.com to see what was new and recommended. I was in a bit of a hurry and ultimately chose Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. It had lots of stars (recommended) and I liked the pretty cover featuring two adorable young girls sitting on a suitcase. I was looking for a light and warm family story. Well, don't judge a book by its cover, as the subject matter of this novel is not pretty fluff. Instead I was drawn into the lives of itinerant shanty-boat children that are unlawfully abducted and placed in a children's home to be brokered out for adoption and profit.

The setting is the Mississippi River near Memphis in the year 1939 when the five Foss children are left alone on their shanty-boat while their father transports his wife to get medical intervention for an early delivery of not one - but two new babies. The parents hesitantly leave the children on their own, promising return or send help by morning. The oldest, Rill, a 12-year-old girl, is left in charge to protect and care for three younger sisters and one toddler brother. The next day terror strikes when strangers abduct them from the river and impound them in the Tennessee Children's Home.

The story leaps into the present-time with a seemingly unconnected meeting of a nursing home resident, May, and Avery, of the prominent and politically connected Stafford family. Avery is intrigued after a chance meeting during a PR event of nursing home resident, May, and a mysterious photograph belonging to May. Who are those people in the photo that have uncanny resemblance to her Grandmother, and where did this stranger get this photo? These unanswered questions lead Avery to further investigate the connection between her aging Grandmother and May and any possible threats to the respected Stafford family name.

Avery's narration alternates with Rill's descriptions of the despicable events at the Tennessee Children's Home. Rill and the other Foss children don't understand where they are and what exactly has happened to them. They keep hoping that any time their father and mother will show up to bring them back to the river. You feel Rill's pain and terror as the children are paraded like prize livestock at adoption screenings and her sisters and brother disappear - never to be seen again. As Rill's story unfolds, you can almost see the building of the bridge that binds together the lives of Avery, the Stafford family and the Foss children.

This book is more than a fictional account of the tragedy of trafficking children for profitable adoption and the horrors committed by Georgia Tann within the Tennessee Children's Home. It is a story of family and what binds us together, when to forget and when to remember. It is sad and lovely - just like the cover.