Before We Were Yours Summary

Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours

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Before We Were Yours Summary

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American author Lisa Wingate’s novel Before We Were Yours (2017) is based on one of the biggest scandals in American history. Split between Tennessee in 1939 and South Carolina in the present day, the story centers on twelve-year-old Rill Foss, who lives aboard a steamboat with her parents and four younger siblings. However, when she and her siblings are taken away by authorities and placed in a cruel orphanage, she fights to keep her siblings together and safe. In the present day, successful federal prosecutor Avery Stafford returns to her family home, uncovering the dark secrets that lurk in their history. Exploring themes of family, corruption, and the resilience of the human spirit, Before We Were Yours quickly became a bestseller, receiving high critical praise from both mainstream critics and the faith-based community.

Before We Were Yours is divided between two primary narratives. The first begins in Memphis, Tennessee in 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss lives on a shanty boat on the Mississippi River with her parents, Queenie and Briny, as well as her three younger sisters and a younger brother. Queenie is pregnant with twins; one night she goes into labor and has complications. Briny has to take his wife to the hospital and leaves Rill in charge of her siblings. However, before he comes back, a group of policemen arrive at the shanty boat and take Rill and her siblings into custody. They are taken to an orphanage run by Miss Tann, Mrs. Murphy, and Mrs. Pulnik. The women are cruel to the children. Rill learns that the place is called the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. At first, the siblings assume they will be brought back to their parents before too long, but soon Rill starts to worry that their keepers have no intention of ever reuniting them with their family. The children are abused, neglected, and malnourished. Rill’s sister Camellia is raped by a worker named Mr. Riggs. Soon after, Camellia disappears, and Miss Tann tells Rill that she never existed. Soon, her brother is taken as well, adopted by a wealthy family.

Rill and her sister Fern are lucky to be kept together, as they are adopted by a wealthy composer named Mr. Sevier. He and his wife lost several children in childbirth and are happy to have kids around the house at last. They call them “May” and “Beth,” the names Miss Tann gave them when they were taken by the orphanage. They are treated well there, but one day Miss Tann arrives and threatens the Seviers that they must pay her more money or the girls will be taken away. Rill decides she and Fern have to run away before they are taken back to the orphanage. They travel on the river back to the family boat. There, Rill reunites with her friend, Silas, and they learn that Queenie passed away recently. Briny has become an alcoholic, and a few days later the boat catches fire. Briny is not found and is presumed dead. With no family left, Rill asks Silas to take her and Fern back to the Seviers. The couple is happy to have their adopted daughters back, and the girls spend the rest of their childhood there.

In present-day Aiken, South Carolina, Avery Stafford is returning to her family home. She is a successful federal prosecutor, the daughter of a senator, and engaged to the handsome Elliot. She visits the local nursing home with her father for a political event and has her bracelet stolen by a resident. The nursing staff calls her, and she returns to the nursing home to get the bracelet back. There, she meets with the elderly woman, May, who stole the bracelet. Avery is curious about May and begins to visit her as she learns that the woman might have some connection to her grandmother Judy, who is suffering from dementia. She searches through Judy’s old books and finds a phone number for someone living on Edisto Island. Calling the number, she finds out that a man named Trent Turner is holding confidential documents for Judy.

Avery makes the decision to travel to Edisto Island to get the documents; she meets with Trent Turner’s grandson, who has the same name. Trent is suspicious of Avery at first, but eventually shows her a birth certificate and adoption papers for a baby boy named Shad Foss, from 1939. Elliot is not supportive of Avery’s quest to find out the truth about her family, and Avery begins to realize her fiancé is not right for her. She and Trent become closer, eventually developing a romance. Trent and May are able to help Avery uncover the truth, and she learns that Judy and May are sisters. Judy is one of the twins Queenie gave birth to in the hospital, and Shad is her twin brother. Judy had been searching for Shad for a long time. The novel ends as May and Judy are finally reunited, their family together again at last.

Lisa Wingate is an American novelist, journalist, magazine columnist, and inspirational speaker. She is the author of more than twenty novels, most in series form. She is a back-to-back nominee for American Christian Fiction Writers Book of the Year and is a winner of the National Civics Award from Americans for More Civility.