10 Oct
Posted in: Book Reviews
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Book Review: “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate


Book reviewed by Bev Scott, Author

Before We Were Yours, by Lisa WingateBefore We Were Yours, in the words of the author, was “formed from the dust of imagination and the muddy waters of the Mississippi.” It also recounts experiences similar to those of real children taken from their families during the 1920’s through the 1950’s and who were victims of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

Families Torn Apart

Countless children taken from loving families without cause or permission were never seen again by their biological families. Yes, some children were unwanted or rescued from dire situations. Many children, adopted out to families all over the country, were taken off the porch, kidnapped in broad daylight or removed from families using lies and deception. They were not given enough food or proper medical care. They were beaten, tied to beds and chairs and locked in dark closets. Undesirable or problem often children disappeared. Adoptive families were sometimes blackmailed for more money. Paperwork vanished leaving no record of the children’s prior lives. Georgia Tann brutalized these children with the support of the family court system, police and other corrupt officials.

Two Stories

In alternate chapters, Lisa Wingate tells two stories which ultimately come together at the end of the book. Avery Stafford is one of the daughters of Senator Stafford from Aiken, South Carolina. She is a lawyer practicing in Washington, D.C., engaged to her childhood sweetheart and being groomed to take over her father’s Senate seat. At one of her father’s events staged at a nursing home, Avery is confronted by a new resident, May, who has glimmers of recognition in seeing Avery who looks like her grandmother. May claims the dragonfly bracelet from Avery’s arm and appears to know Avery’s grandmother. Avery is intrigued by the mystery of May and begins to investigate the potential relationship with her grandmother fearing there is some scandal involved that would cause damage to the reputation of the Stafford family.

Alternately, we learn of the five children Rill, Camellia, Lark, Fern and Gabion who live on a shanty boat on the river with loving but unconventional parents, Briny and Queenie. The children are left alone when Briny takes Queenie to the hospital for medical care for a difficult delivery of twins. They are “kidnapped” from the boat by the police and taken to the house of horrors managed by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. After weeks of uncertainty and fear yet hoping that Briny will come for them, they discover the brutal truth of their situation. Camellia disappears, perhaps dying from injuries suffered from a beating. Rill, the oldest at twelve, is told that Camellia never existed, that there were “only four of you.” Lark and Gabion are the first to be adopted out followed by Fern and Rill.


Wingate provides gripping descriptions of horrors the children suffer. Avery’s search for clues to solve the mysterious connection between her grandmother and the enigmatic May is compelling.  Alternating chapters to develop the characters and the plot of the two stories is well done. The character of Avery seems a bit shallow in contrast to the depth of the shanty boat children. Perhaps it is her rationale for her search that is shallow, the reputation of the Stafford family. I couldn’t help believing that Avery had some additional personal motivations.

I recommend this impactful book. For several days, I shuddered thinking about the horrors these fictional, as well as the real children, suffered at the hands of a greedy, manipulative, and unscrupulous woman. Fortunately, for some children, there were “happy endings.”


So, what do you think?

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