Before We Were Yours (Wingate)

Before We Were Yours 
Lisa Wingate, 2017
Random House
352 pp.
ISBN-13:
9780425284681


Summary
— 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 fiance, 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. (From the publisher.)

Read New York Post article.



Author Bio
Birth—1964-65
Where—Germany
Raised—Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Education—B.A./B.S., Oklahoma State University
Awards—(see below)
Currently—lives in Menro, Arkansas


Lisa Wingate is an American inspirational speaker and the author of more than 20 novels, many of them bestsellers. Wingate was born in Germany but raised in the U.S. state of Oklahoma where she attended Oklahoma State University, earning her Bachelor's degree in English and communications.

She married her husband, Sam, a science teacher and rancher from Texas, in 1988. They lived with their two sons in various towns in central Texas, eventually settling in Menro, Arkansas—in the Ouachita Mountains of southwest Arkansas, not far from the Texas border.

Wingate said she has always been writing, even as a child. As a first-grader, while her classmates played their way through recess, Wingate stayed at her desk creating stories. Her teacher Mrs. Krackhardt noticed her writing and ended up reading the stories to Wingate's classmates. On Wingate's final report card, her teacher wrote, "Keep that pencil working with that wonderful imagination, Lisa!

As Wingate told the Community Advocate, the hometown paper in Massachusetts where that elementary school is still located:

I went from being a shy transfer kid with no friends to a wonderful writer. I felt that writing was something special, and I was something special.… Even though we moved again and left that school behind, I always thought of myself as a writer because Mrs. Krackhardt told me I was.

Years later, in 2001, after publishing her first book, Tending Roses, Wingate tried to locate her teacher…but without success. It wasn't until 2012, when she published The Language of Sycamores Tree—and wanted to dedicate the book to her—that a local bookstore owner recognized Mrs. Krackhardt and told her about Wingate.

Wingate is one of the few authors who has been able to make the cross over between the Christian and mainstream markets. She publishes works with Bethany House and Penguin Random House. Not only do her works generate large sales, they have also won or been nominated for awards—the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, the Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award. (Adapted from various online sources. Retrieved 7/18/2017.)



Book Reviews
Historical fiction has the capacity to entertain, educate, or horrify. In BEFORE WE WERE YOURS Lisa Wingate manages all three. Through one family’s nightmare, Wingate explores the atrocities that took place at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society between 1920 and1950 under the cruel hand of Georgia Tann.… There is much to dissect in this book. It kept me up past one in the morning and kept my mind lingering long after.  READ MORE…
Abby Fabiaschi, AUTHOR - LitLovers


Lisa Wingate brings…shocking crimes and their long-term emotional impact to light in her affecting new novel, Before We Were Yours. The book tells the story of two families — the wealthy, connected Staffords and the dirt-poor “river gypsy” Fosses. Though her tale is fictional, it stems from the true, terrible events of the Tennessee tragedy. Tann and her associates would tear apart one family to benefit another, creating wounds not easily healed. The loss would linger, like a phantom limb, for generations.
Nick Poppy - New York Post

“Every now and then a novel comes along that sweeps me off my reading feet. Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, is such a book.… It’s a great book-club read, one of those books that teaches you something, gives you lots to discuss and even more to think about.… Take note: This may be the best book of the year.
Shreveport Times


A [story] of a family lost and found.… A poignant, engrossing tale about sibling love and the toll of secrets.
People


Before We Were Yours is sure to be one of the most compelling books you pick up this year.… Wingate is a master-storyteller, and you’ll find yourself pulled along as she reveals the wake of terror and heartache that is Georgia Tann’s legacy.
Parade


One of the year’s best books.… It is almost a cliche to say a book is "lovingly written" but that phrase applies clearly to Lisa Wingate’s latest novel, Before We Were Yours. This story about children taken from their parents through kidnapping or subterfuge and then placed for adoption, for a price, clearly pours out of Wingate’s heart.… It is impossible not to get swept up in this near-perfect novel. It invades your heart from the very first pages and stays there long after the book is finished. Few novelists could strike the balance this story requires but Wingate does it with assurance. There are a lot of books that will catch your eye this summer, some from our best storytellers. Make sure this one is on your radar. It should not be missed.
Huffington Post


Wingate is a compelling storyteller, steeping her narrative with a forward momentum that keeps the reader as engaged and curious as Avery in her quest. The feel-good ending can be seen from miles away, but does nothing to detract from this fantastic novel.
Publishers Weekly


Christy and Carol Award-winning Wingate (The Story Keeper; The Sea Glass Sisters) weaves a complex tale about two families, two generations apart, linked by an injustice, based on a notorious true-life scandal.… The thought-provoking subject matter makes this at times a difficult read —Shondra Brown, Wakarusa P.L., IN
Library Journal


This story is heartfelt and genuine, especially as Wingate explores the idea of home and family from a youngster’s point of view.
Historical Novels Review


Wingate's fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.… [A]shameful true story of child exploitation but…less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. Before We Were Yours alternates between the historical story of the Foss Children and the modern-day story of Avery Stafford. Did you have a favorite between these story lines? Which one and why?

2. Many families have been touched in some way by adoption and foster care. Is adoption or foster care in your family history? If so, how did that affect your thoughts about the journey of the Foss children an about Avery’s excavation of her family history?

3. When the sisters were originally reunited, they decided to keep their history to themselves rather than telling their families. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? What do you think the implications would have been if they had gone public? Do you think family secrets should remain secret, particularly after the people who kept those secrets have passed away? Or do family secrets belong to the next generation, as well? Have you ever discovered a secret in your family history? If so, what was it (if you care to share it, that is)?

4. “There was a little girl who had a little curl” is a touchstone between Avery and her Grandma Judy. Is there a song or saying that reminds you of someone special in your childhood? Where does your mind travel when you hear it or repeat it?

5. Avery laments that the busy schedule expected of a Stafford has prevented her from spending time on Edisto Island with her sisters or Elliot. “Who chooses the schedules we keep? We do, I guess,” she tells herself but excuses this with, “the good life demands a lot of maintenance.” In our modern age are we too busy? Too preoccupied with accumulating things to actually enjoy what we have? Too dialed into media and social media? What are your thoughts on this? What would you like to change about your own schedule? Anything? What might you gain if you did?

6. While Rill sees her life on the Arcadia through the idyllic eyes of childhood, May in her old age seems to acknowledge that she wouldn’t have traded the life she lived for a different one. Do you think she wonders whether Queenie and Briny’s unconventional existence on the Arcadia could would have been sustainable as times changed or more children were added to the family? Were Queenie and Briny responsible or careless in their choices?

7. May says, “A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to her own music if she chooses.” How has your past made you who you are? What do you want to leave behind? Anything? What is the true “music” of your own soul? Are you in step with it or out of step? What helps you hear your own music and find balance in your life?

8. When fear of being caught threatens to prevent her from escaping Miss Murphy’s house, Rill tells herself, “I shush my mind because your mind can ruin you if you let it.” Does your mind ever ruin you? In what way? On what issues? May comments, “We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.” Are women particularly guilty of this? What do we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t?

9. Child trafficking, abuse, and economic disadvantage still imperil the lives and futures of children today. What can we as ordinary citizens do to prevent children from being robbed of safe, happy childhoods? What can society do to prevent people like Georgia Tann from taking advantage of the most helpless and vulnerable among us?

10. Did you search for more information about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society after reading Before We Were Yours? What did you learn? Based on what you learned, what do you think motivated Georgia Tann? Why were so many people willing to be complicit in her schemes when they knew children were suffering? Was Georgia’s network a creature of the political corruption and societal attitudes of its time or could something like this happen today?

11. Avery feels the pressure of being in a high-profile political family. Do you famous families are held to a higher standard than others? Should they be? Has this changed in recent years or is it just harder to keep secrets in today’s media-crazed world?

12. How did Avery grow as a result of her discoveries about the family’s past? How did it change her view of herself and her family’s expectations for her? Did your family have expectations for you that you didn’t agree  with? Who in Avery’s family might struggle most to accept her decision to change her life plans?

13. Do you think there will be a happily-ever-after ending for Avery and Trent? In your view, what might that look like?

14. How would you describe Rill as she struggles through the abduction, the orphanage, and her decision to return to her adoptive family? Did you admire her? What changes did you see in her as a result of the experience? How is she different when she gets to the Sevier’s house?

15. Avery struggles to come to terms with Grandma Judy’s dementia. Her family wrestles with difficult choices about Grandma Judy’s care. Has memory loss and elder care affected your family? In what way? What issues did it cause and how did you deal with them? Have you imagined what it would be like to be a victim of memory loss?

16. The Seviers seem to have adopted the Foss girls with good intentions. Do you think they were aware of or at all suspicious of Georgia Tann’s methods? Should they have been?

17. What symbolism do you see in the picture of the sisters on the wall? How do you think the sisters felt during their Sisters Days? Do you have sisters you are close to or sister-friends you spend time with? What does that bond mean to you?

18. Did you wish all seven of the Foss siblings could have found one another in the end? In your opinion, would that have been realistic or unrealistic? Why do you think the author chose not to bring all of the siblings back together?

19. This novel has garnered worldwide interest in the publishing industry and is being translated for publication in at least fourteen  countries. Why do you think the story drew international attention? What themes in it are universal?

20. Was the cover a factor in your book club’s decision to read Before We Were Yours? What reaction did you have to the cover and title?

21. Will you be passing the book on to someone else? Will it remain on your bookshelf? Will you give a copy to someone you know?

(Questions issued by publishers. Be sure to see the full Book Club Kit.)

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