Before We Were Yours was written by Lisa Wingate, 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.



Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat—until strangers arrive in force. At the mercy of a 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 ahead when uncomfortable questions compel 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.

This novel is based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals. 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.


Study Questions

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1. Before you read Before We Were Yours, did you know the historical side of adoption and that there was a black market for babies back then?

2. Do you think Queenie and Briny were at fault for losing their children? Was it viable for them to have more children?

3. Were you surprised about the living conditions of young children in the orphanage as revealed in Rill’s story?

4. How did you feel about Rill as you see her struggle against the abduction and then at the orphanage? Do you think she was brave? What does it reveal about her character that she goes back to the Sevier’s after her attempt to leave them to get back to Acadia?

5. Why did the Sevier’s adopt the Foss girls, Rill and Fern? Do you think they knew that the orphanage was corrupt? What incident happened that may have opened their eyes?

6. Rill and her sister Fern’s adoption turned out well in the end. Were you surprised about that Rill learned her love for music from Mr. Sevier? What are your thoughts about her upbringing after she was adopted?

7. Miss Tann is the fictionalized character of real-life Georgia Tann who ran the Tennessee. Do you agree or disagree with Georgia Tann’s remark below? What does it reveal about Miss Tann’s character? How do you feel about Miss Tann?
“They are, [Georgia Tann] said repeatedly, blank slates. They are born untainted, and if you adopt them at an early age and surround them with beauty and culture, they will become anything you wish them to be.”

8. Before We Were Yours swings between the history of the Foss children and Avery Stafford’s story. Did you find that style appealing, or did you prefer one over the other?

9. Why do you think that the sisters kept their reunion and their secret away from their family? Do you agree with their decision?

10. Were you expecting a happy ending given Rill’s sad story at the beginning?

11. Do you think that Avery and Trent make a good couple? Why do you think they are compatible? How do you think it will end up for them?

12. Avery digs deep into her family history. Did you notice the change in her as the story moved along? How did Avery change as she journeyed into her family’s past?

[Arlene’s Book Club]



This discussion witnessed our first full complement of book club members since the beginning of the COVID pandemic limitations in March of 2020. The book generated a lively discussion mostly centered on the activities of Georgia Tann the unscrupulous director of the Tennessee orphanage that abducted and sold young children to families seeking to adopt. It was a surprise too many that this activity persisted into the middle of the 20th century.

There was nothing that could be said good about this woman who died only two weeks after the final decision to close the discredited facility. Well almost. When her picture was circulated, one member said, “she doesn’t look too bad. I see how she could make people think she was doing a good thing.” The irony of this sordid activity was no in-depth investigation or legal proceeding to establish guilt and dole out punishment took place. Nobody was found guilty and punished. Instead, it simply stopped. Georgia Tann died of untreated uterine cancer two weeks after the orphanage was closed. None of her collaborators and enablers paid any price but simply disappeared from the scene. .Judge Kelly, who had presided for 20 years over “quick and dirty” approval of false of adoption papers along with destruction of valid documents retired in two weeks and escaped any form of punishment. Much of this information came from outside research after reading the book.

The writing in this book was excellent, but readers were sometimes confused by the constant shifting back and forth in the story from the group of children who were abducted from their houseboat and the 3rd generation family in Virginia. A member of the youngest generation, a lawyer, provided a love interest. She pursued the facts about her grandmother Judy’s provenance and eventually brought the truth about their patrician family who finally accepted the fact that the matriarch was an orphan from the infamous Tennessee Children’s home.

This book proved a solid contribution to the literature of historical fiction. It was noted that a second book was written by Wingate and Judy Christie, Before and After.  It described the lives of 15 families of children who had been put up for adoption after abduction by Tann.

The book rating was a solid 8 with the high mark 10 and one mark of five. Those more likely to give the lower marks were put off by the content more than the writing.


By Gene Helveston


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