Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate

I can’t imagine anything as painful as a forced separation between parents and children–or between siblings. The topic is one that I am familiar with in my day job working at a nonprofit supporting kids and families touched by foster care and adoption. It isn’t a topic for the weak of heart. I’m thankful to say that it’s a topic author Lisa Wingate handled beautifully. This story teems with heart–heartache, heartbreak, and heart warmth.

Based on a true story, Before We Were Yours dives into a shameful and despicable part of adoption history: the forced division of families through deceit, trickery, or even, at times, outright kidnapping. The practice of brokering kids is a horrible one–and made for some of the most compelling scenes in this book. Poor record keeping or even the destruction of records meant that so many children were never able to find or reunite with brothers, sisters, or birth parents. Before We Were Yours touches on these devastating circumstances through the story of five siblings and their families–the ones they were born to and the ones they created.

This is one of the best books I have read all year. An amazing story that combines emotion, mystery, and history to create something moving and very memorable.

About the Book

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s 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 on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels 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.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—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.

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