Book Review: “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate


“Before We Were Yours” is based on a true story about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society — a child trafficking circle masquerading as an orphanage for decades in the early 1900s. The novel follows the stories of two women. One is a 12-year-old girl named Rill Foss, a river gypsy living in 1939, who is kidnapped along with her four younger siblings and thrown into a filthy boarding house with many other children. The children must remain there until they are sold to wealthy families. As the oldest, Rill feels like she has the responsibility of keeping her younger siblings safe, and, most importantly, together. But as the days pass, they all wonder if they’ll ever get to return home.

The other woman is Avery Stafford, who lives in the present. Avery is the daughter of the senator of South Carolina and has been raised in wealth and privilege. While she leads a successful career as a prosecutor, she must return home to support her sick father. She must also, however, cement her standing as a political candidate in order to carry on the Stafford tradition. By chance, she meets an old woman named May Crandell who leaves Avery questioning what she knows about her family.

As the two stories unravel, the seemingly different storylines converge, culminating in a striking connection.


When I picked this book up and read the blurb, I was immediately intrigued by its basis in history. I had never heard of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and was appalled to learn of its true nature. I wanted to learn more about this scandal, and this booked seemed like a good place to start.

I was glad my judgement was correct. Not only does this novel tell a story based on a piece of history that should not be ignored, but it is also written in evocative language. There were also some lovely metaphors peppered throughout the story.

What I especially liked about this novel was the usage of two storylines from two different time periods. I think Wingate did a fantastic job of keeping a balance between the two stories and kept up my interest in both stories the whole time. She skillfully creates suspense throughout a chapter that chronicles one storyline, and then often ends with a note that makes you want to know more. However, when you flip to the next page and begin a chapter about the other storyline, you find yourself also rooting for those characters and eagerly waiting to find out what will happen next. I absolutely loved being immersed in the two different worlds while also looking for the connection between them.


Simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful. You’ll keep flipping the pages wanting to know what will happen next.