Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Before We Were Yours” as Want to Read:
Before We Were Yours
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Before We Were Yours

4.37  ·  Rating details ·  444,494 ratings  ·  35,274 reviews
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, ...more
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published June 6th 2017 by Ballantine Books
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Before We Were Yours, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers... (view spoiler)
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.37  · 
Rating details
 ·  444,494 ratings  ·  35,274 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Before We Were Yours
Emily May
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical, 2018
But the love of sisters needs no words. It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof. It runs as deep as a heartbeat. It is as ever present as a pulse.

I still maintain that The Heart's Invisible Furies and Pachinko were more deserving of the Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction, but I can definitely see why Before We Were Yours has had such an emotional impact on readers.

Comparisons to Orphan Train make a lot of sense. The pacing and structure of both stories are similar, a
Jennifer Masterson
I absolutely loved this heartbreakingly beautiful piece of writing! I'd give this book 10 stars if I could! "Before We Were Yours" by Lisa Wingate grabbed me from the very beginning, tossed my emotions around like a salad, and never let go! I didn't want it to end.

I listened to the audio version! Both narrators deserve huge props for their performances! I actually think this novel was enhanced by the superb narration!

There are two storylines going on in this novel, one in 1939 and one is prese
Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin
Sep 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
UPDATE: $2.99 Kindle US 11/3/20

My book won the GR 2017 award. Yay!

Wow! This book was really sad and had a happy ending at least. I had no idea this was a place and it breaks my heart 😢

This is written in the front of the book:

For the hundreds who vanished
and for the thousands who didn't.
May your stories
not be forgotten.

For those who help today's orphans
find forever homes.
May you always know the value
of your work
and your love.

This book is about the Foss children. They are fictional in the
Rating 3.5

OK, so I'm going to be the party pooper on this one.......I liked this one, but didn't love it. There were things I really liked about it and other things that drug it down a bit for me (hence, a 3.5 rating). So I'll try to list a few here.

First, the story. I think just about everyone knows this story. I'm sure I'm the last to read and review. A historical fiction read that has headlines plucked from the real world. Two dual stories told in alternating times between Memphis, Tennessee
Lindsay - Traveling Sisters Book Reviews
4.5 stars! What a heart-wrenching, powerful and emotional read!

I’ll start by explaining that ever since I laid eyes on this cover a few months ago, I haven’t stopped thinking of this book. There is just something about this cover that calls to me and makes me want to reach into the picture to hug and comfort these two little girls. I have never had a book cover ‘speak’ to me as powerfully as this one does.

With that being said, I was so happy that the actual story lived up to my hopes from the c
Oh. My. Goodness. What a great read..... If you're ready for a story you can really sink your teeth into with characters that virtually come to life, here you go.

"Adoption matron may have been most prolific serial killer."

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS takes the reader on a heartbreaking, but mesmerizing journey depicting shocking truths about the real life Tennessee Children's Home Society that was active from the 1920's thru organization that basically schemed, lied, kidnapped and broker

While this novel is based on historical events and real persons who existed in Tennessee in the first half of the 20th century, preying on poor families and their children, I found that I had great difficulty relating to it, primarily because of the contemporary story and the primary protagonist. My thoughts vary on this book. Some aspects are well done and the expose of the decades-long adoption ring in Memphis is both interesting and abhorrent. But the total presentation still bothers me, part ...more
'Before We Were Yours' is a highly emotional and moving fictional story, inspired by true events. Through the telling of this story, Lisa Wingate sheds light on the despicable real life actions of Georgia Tann, a woman that ran a black market child trafficking ring masked as a legitimate adoption agency for decades in Tennessee. She catered to the rich and famous, providing largely blond-haired and light-eyed children to those that could afford to pay her outrageous price. She made millions off ...more
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a 2017 Ballantine Books publication.

This is an amazing, heart wrenching story centered around the true events involving the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

When Avery Stafford, the daughter of a prominent Senator stumbles upon the possibility her grandmother is harboring a dark family secret, she nearly becomes obsessed with her mission to uncover the truth.

The story flashes back to 1939, when Rill Foss and her siblings are snatched from their poor Mi
Muhtasin Fuad
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Heartache, agony, meanness, and cruelty.One of the hardest books I have ever read. The topic in the book is disturbing and It is especially compelling because it is based on something that actually happened. This is a book that will fill you with shame for what society did to its children.
I want a pain that has a beginning and an end, not one that goes on forever and cuts all the way to the bone.

Elyse  Walters
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes a story must be told.
Sometimes when the average rating for a book by 65, 652 people is 4.39...we are foolish to not read it.
Sometime books rated high - are Goodreads Choice Winners - really ‘are’ heartbreaking- beautiful- emotional - important - historical - powerful - eye opening - educational - ( based on real life scandals) - wonderful and compelling.

Sad with a happy ending!

Like many have said —- I am glad I read it. The horrors were gut-wrenching - no other way to say it The few
Angela M
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I don't read a lot of non fiction so I really appreciate when a novel can enlighten me on things that happened that I wouldn't have otherwise known about . As in Orphan Train when I first learned about their existence or in What She Left Behind, which highlights the atrocities of a mental institution and in particular the treatment of women, this story inspired by real events relays the sad story of a family torn apart by the greed and horrible acts against children and their families. The autho ...more
Feb 24, 2019 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: NO ONE
The events these two have weathered make me marvel. This is what's possible when love is real and strong, when people are devoted to one another, when they'll sacrifice anything to be together. This is what I want for myself, but I sometimes wonder if it's possible for our modern generation. We're so distracted, so... busy.

Glancing down at my engagement ring, I think, Elliot and I have what it takes. We know each other so well. We've always been side by side...

The birthday girl slowly pushes her
Diane S ☔
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
No matter how many stories are told or books written, it seems there is a neverending supply of man's inhumanity to others still to be told. The culture, silence and greed necessary to let this type of evil perpetuate and grow. The Tennessee Children's society is the focus of this novel, harm against the helpless and most vulnerable among us and the poor who did not have the resources necessary to fight back. Hidden within plain sight, this place flourished in it's cruelty and money making by th ...more
Susanne  Strong
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
4 Stars.
A Disturbing, Heart-wrenching & Powerful Piece of Historical Fiction.

Before We Were Yours is a story about families torn apart by Social Injustice. Told from two different points of view: Rill, now known as May, who experienced horrors most of us can’t even begin to imagine; and Avery, a former Federal Prosecutor and the Daughter of a Senator, who feels the need to live up to her families’ expectations at all times.

Between the 1920’s-1950’s, The Tennessee Children’s Home Society was run
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
5 Stars - a heart wrenching, emotional and haunting read!

"But the love of sisters needs no words. It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof. It runs as deep as a heartbeat. It is as ever present as a pulse."

This book - how can I put in to words how it made me feel? It basically tore my heart into a million pieces but also filled it at the same time. How is that even possible? The answer is actually quite simple - the Foss children. Their tale was one of unimaginable loss and
Mary Beth
Nov 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is 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—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.

The siblings were kidnapped and taken to the Tennessee Children's Home Society in Memphis, Tennessee. Miss Tann
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
An amazing,don't want to put down, hold the book in a big hug and wish this story never ended. Sigh* BUT....

This grabbed me from the get go. Two stories told simultaneously during 2 different time periods.
Avery's story, present day. She's an attorney who has met up with a woman in a nursing home who says she looks familiar. Curiosity starts to open this Pandora's box. Rill, a river rat, has been kidnapped along with her 4 siblings back in the 30's and sent to an orphanage to be sold to the high
May 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘for the hundreds who vanished and for the thousands who didnt - may your stories not be forgotten.’

the story of the ross siblings may be a work of fiction, but there are a countless number of children whose experiences were not.

i had never heard of the tennessee childrens home society orphanage before this book, but i am so saddened that something so oppressive could ever take place and that so many people not only turned a blind eye to it, but ‘benefited’ from it.

this is exactly why i am
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Historical fiction about family - those we have lost, those we have found and those with painful secrets. I love books (and movies) that are based on true events. This books sheds light on a another dark time in our nation's history - sad times for the children and families affected. A time where adoptions were not always legal and people who could pay for a child were given one no questions asked.

This book begins in Memphis in 1939 when twelve year old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings a
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, audiobooks, faves
The perfect blend of past and present.... The present day was filled with mystery and secrets while the past was filled with heartbreak and hope...

5 simply stunning stars!🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

WOW! Another fabulous book, the south sure can spin a story! I have read quite a few books recently that take place in the south, and all were wonderful and very interesting to this California girl.... and even though the historic part of this book was horrific and tragic, I could still see the hope, the good and the cult
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
The background: This book is based on the real life events that happened at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, an adoption agency is Memphis, TN, operated by Georgia Tann. The agency was a front for a black market adoption scheme in the 1920s. Ms. Tann would take babies and children from poor families and sell them to the wealthy. Many of the children’s names were changed and records destroyed so the children could not later be traced or found. Many prominent people adopted children from the ...more

Baltimore, Maryland
AUGUST 3, 1939

“My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon. The room takes life only in my imaginings. It is large most days when I conjure it. The walls are white and clean, the bed linens crisp as a fallen leaf. The private suite has the very finest of everything. Outside, the breeze is weary, and the cicadas throb in the tall trees, their verdant hiding places just below the window frames. The screens sway inward as
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
4 stars! Cover love!!!!

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by LISA WINGATE is a heartbreaking, interesting, and a powerful Historical Fiction novel that was enlightening to read.  This story was inspired by actual true life events about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society that was based in Memphis and the director Georgia Tann. This Memphis-based adoption organization was absolutely horrific in the way that they treated and exploited these children.

We thought that LISA WINGATE did a wonderful job at shedding
Shelby *trains flying monkeys*
3.5 stars

This story is told in two time periods. You have present time with Avery Stafford. Avery is a senator's daughter and when her father gets sick Avery comes home to help aid him in any way she can. Some questions come up about her grandmother's past that Avery digs into that leads her down a path she never imagined.
Then you have Memphis in 1939. Rill is the oldest child of a couple that live in a river boat. One night her parents have to leave all five children home alone to rush their m
5 Heartbreaking ★'s

“But the love of sisters needs no words. It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof. It runs as deep as a heartbeat. It is as ever present as a pulse.”

This book is a fictional story, but it was inspired by true events.

I finished reading this late into the night and I still can't get it out of my head. It was such a Strong, Emotional and Heart-wrenching read!! Any book that can make me feel the way I did, and make me cry the way I did, deserves nothing less than the
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it

"For the hundreds who vanished and for the thousands who didn't. May your stories not be forgotten. For those who help today's orphans find forever homes. May you always know the value of your work and your love."

The Tennessee Home for Children (T.H.C.) was run and operated by Georgia Tann during the first half of the twentieth century. Although some children living in the home truly were orphans, there were many others that were torn from their homes. The reason?The mother may have been unw
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a story that taught me about a time in history. In the 1930-1950's there was a woman named Georgia Tann who ran The Tennessee Children's Home Society, that stole children from poor families and sold them.
The story of the sisters in this book, from a poor "river" family, is based on this history. It is really heart wrenching what happened to this family, but it was a beautifully told, and moving story.
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
NOT JUST A PRETTY COVER, but Lisa Wingate has taken a heartbreaking and criminal time in a nation's history and produced a moving and compelling story of sisters and families torn apart by the Tennessee Children's Home Society Scandal (Memphis late 1930s)

I was swept in from page one in this well written historical fiction story and Lisa Wingate's novel is a terrific example of why I enjoy historical fiction stories. These stories reach thousands of readers like me who knew nothing about this sa
Dorie  - Cats&Books :)
I was blown away by this story and the great writing! I’ve never read a novel by Ms.Wingate but I will certainly be looking for more of her books.

This novel tells the historically correct story about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society which was run by Georgia Tann in the late 1930’s. The story of the main characters was fiction but based on what really happened to many of the children in this orphanage.

The plot is written from two points of view, that of Rill, later named May by her adoptive
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Adoption Stories: Excerpts from Adoption Books for Adults
  • Before and After: The Incredible Real-Life Stories of Orphans Who Survived the Tennessee Children's Home Society
  • The Nightingale
  • Orphan Train
  • The Great Alone
  • Where the Crawdads Sing
  • Little Fires Everywhere
  • The Four Winds
  • The Giver of Stars
  • The Alice Network
  • Lilac Girls
  • All the Ways We Said Goodbye
  • American Dirt
  • Educated
  • The Tattooist of Auschwitz (The Tattooist of Auschwitz, #1)
  • The Vanishing Half
  • The Dutch House
  • Firefly Lane (Firefly Lane, #1)
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the bestselling author of more than thirty books. Her blockbuster "Before We Were Yours" was on the NYT best seller list for over one year. Her work has won or been nominated for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Utah Library Award, the Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT ...more

Articles featuring this book

What will you do when it's your turn to pick your book club's next read? Well, this is what you won't do: panic. Why not? Because we've dug...
190 likes · 45 comments
“But the love of sisters needs no words. It does not depend on memories, or mementos, or proof. It runs as deep as a heartbeat. It is as ever present as a pulse.” 134 likes
“A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to new music if she chooses. Her own music. To hear the tune, she must only stop talking. To herself, I mean. We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.” 112 likes
More quotes…