Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young girl is taken from her family and placed in a Tennessee orphanage, where she fights to survive and find her way back home.

Introduction

"Before We Were Yours" by Lisa Wingate is a poignant and emotional novel that delves into the lives of children who were victims of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, a real-life orphanage that operated in Memphis from the 1920s to the 1950s. Wingate's novel weaves together the stories of two families, separated by decades, yet connected through the heart-wrenching events at the orphanage. Through her compelling storytelling, Wingate sheds light on the dark and often overlooked history of the orphanage, while also exploring themes of family, identity, and the enduring strength of the human spirit.

Brief Synopsis

The novel is set in Memphis, Tennessee, and alternates between two timelines: one in the 1930s and the other in the present day. The 1930s storyline follows the Foss children – Rill, Camellia, Fern, Lark, and Gabion – who live with their parents on a shantyboat on the Mississippi River. Their lives are forever altered when they are taken from their home and placed in the Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage, where they face abuse, neglect, and the harsh realities of the orphanage system.

In the present day, the story centers on Avery Stafford, a successful lawyer and politician's daughter, who is drawn into a mystery surrounding her grandmother's past. As Avery investigates her family's history, she uncovers long-buried secrets that tie her family to the events at the Tennessee Children's Home Society and ultimately lead her to a deeper understanding of her own identity.

Main Characters

The novel features several main characters whose lives are intricately connected:

CharacterDescription
Rill FossThe eldest of the Foss children, fiercely protective of her siblings
Avery StaffordA successful lawyer and politician's daughter, driven to uncover her family's past
Fern FossThe second eldest of the Foss children, with a strong bond to Rill
QueenieThe Foss children's mother, determined to reunite her family
Briny FossThe Foss children's father, devoted to his family

Story Points Over Chapters

Part 1: Rill

Chapter 1-5

Rill and her siblings are taken from their home and brought to the Tennessee Children's Home Society, where they are separated and subjected to the harsh conditions of the orphanage.

Chapter 6-10

Rill's determination to protect her siblings grows as she navigates the challenges and dangers of the orphanage, while also reminiscing about her life on the shantyboat.

Chapter 11-15

The Foss children face further adversity at the orphanage, and Rill's resolve to keep her family together is tested as the cruelty of the orphanage staff becomes increasingly apparent.

Part 2: Avery

Chapter 1-5

Avery's encounter with an elderly woman at a nursing home sparks her curiosity about her family's past, leading her to investigate the connection between her grandmother and the Tennessee Children's Home Society.

Chapter 6-10

As Avery delves deeper into her family's history, she uncovers shocking revelations that challenge her understanding of her family and her own identity.

Chapter 11-15

Avery's quest for the truth leads her to confront the painful secrets of the past, ultimately bringing her closer to the hidden stories of the Foss children and their connection to her own family.

Main Events

  • The Foss children's abduction from their home and their subsequent experiences at the Tennessee Children's Home Society.
  • Avery's investigation into her family's past and the uncovering of long-buried secrets that connect her to the events of the orphanage.
  • The enduring resilience and determination of the Foss children to survive and reunite as a family.

Themes and Insights

Family and Identity

The novel explores the profound impact of family bonds and the enduring strength of familial connections, as seen through the experiences of the Foss children and Avery's journey to uncover her family's history.

Resilience and Survival

Wingate portrays the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity, as the Foss children navigate the challenges of the orphanage and Avery confronts the difficult truths of her family's past.

Historical Injustice

Through the lens of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, the novel sheds light on the historical injustices faced by children who were victims of the orphanage system, highlighting the need to acknowledge and remember their stories.

Reader's Takeaway

"Before We Were Yours" is a compelling and emotionally resonant novel that delves into the lives of individuals impacted by the Tennessee Children's Home Society, offering a poignant exploration of family, resilience, and the enduring legacy of historical injustices. Through its dual timelines and richly drawn characters, the novel captivates readers with its powerful storytelling and thought-provoking themes, leaving a lasting impression of hope, resilience, and the enduring power of family bonds.

Conclusion

In "Before We Were Yours," Lisa Wingate delivers a moving and evocative narrative that brings to light the often untold stories of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. Through the intertwined lives of the Foss children and Avery Stafford, Wingate crafts a compelling tale of resilience, family, and the enduring impact of historical injustices. The novel's exploration of the human spirit and the complexities of identity resonates deeply with readers, making it a thought-provoking and unforgettable literary experience.

Before We Were Yours FAQ

  1. What is 'Before We Were Yours' about?

    Before We Were Yours is a historical fiction novel that follows the story of a family torn apart by the Tennessee Children's Home Society, a real-life notorious adoption agency that kidnapped and sold children to wealthy families in the 1930s and 1940s. The novel explores the impact of these events on two generations of the family.

  2. Is 'Before We Were Yours' based on a true story?

    Yes, 'Before We Were Yours' is inspired by the real-life scandal of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, where children were illegally taken from their families and placed for adoption with wealthy families. While the characters and specific events in the novel are fictional, the overarching story is rooted in historical truth.

  3. Who is the author of 'Before We Were Yours'?

    The author of 'Before We Were Yours' is Lisa Wingate, an American author known for her bestselling novels in the historical and contemporary fiction genres. She has received numerous literary awards and critical acclaim for her work.

  4. What themes are explored in 'Before We Were Yours'?

    The novel delves into themes such as family, identity, resilience, and the enduring impact of trauma. It also touches on social issues related to the treatment of children in the care system and the power dynamics in adoption practices.

  5. Is 'Before We Were Yours' a standalone novel or part of a series?

    'Before We Were Yours' is a standalone novel, meaning it is not part of a series. It tells a complete story within one book and does not have sequels or prequels.