Tag Archives: South Carolina

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  352

Published:  June 6, 2017

Format:  Audiobook

Awards:  Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction (2017)




This novel is based on the real horrors of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and Georgia Tann’s role there. It is set up as a mystery with two alternating points of view, May Crandall in the the past and Avery Stafford in the present.  Avery Stafford runs into May Crandall in a nursing home during a political event.  May recognizes Avery’s dragonfly bracelet and the connection between these two women slowly emerges.

May Crandall, who was born Rill Foss, begins telling her story to us from a riverboat on the Mississippi in 1939.  Rill Foss is the oldest of 5 children living on the Arcadia with her parents Briny and Queenie and her 4 younger siblings.   Her mother, pregnant with twins, is taken to the hospital after unsuccessful delivery at home and Rill is left in charge. While the parents are gone, the police come and take the children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, where they are subject to all manner of mistreatment and abuse.

The second narrator is Avery Stafford who speaks to us from present day Aiken, South Carolina.  She is a DA in Washington, but is currently being groomed to be the next Senator should her father’s health take a turn for the worse.  She is engaged to childhood friend Elliot, however no plans have been put forth for an actual wedding.  Her life seems to be about appearances:  marrying the right person, dressing the right way, being sure not to get involved in anything that could be misconstrued.  She feels her life has been planned out for her.  She lives her life concerned with outward appearances, propriety and political implications.

Avery Stafford is thrown off guard by an encounter with May Crandall, a resident of the nursing home she visits for political reasons.  May steals her bracelet and asks about Avery’s grandmother when Avery comes to retrieve it.  Avery questions her grandmother about their connection and realizes there is more to the story.  She wants to uncover the truth to protect the family name.  Avery’s investigating leads her to Edisto Island, where she tells her family she is going for a bit of relaxation.  There she meets Trent and a slow burn of a romance develops between them as they unravel the secrets that have been kept hidden by these women all these years.

I loved reading May’s story.  It is compelling and written with a lot of heart.  I felt that Avery’s part was overwritten, and did not feel as believable or true.  There was too great an emphasis placed on her social and political position.  The romance felt like an unnecessary add on, somewhat cheapening the more important part of the story.  I also found that several of the facts didn’t quite make sense.  It very much bothered me that Grandma Judy was the baby girl twin given away.  If she has Alzheimer’s and remembers those best from early childhood, then May would not have been one of those people, as they did not meet until adulthood.  But, I guess Lisa Wingate’s point was that: “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.”  Overall, this book is definitely an enjoyable read containing a historical piece that is both fascinating and horrific.



Discussion Questions:

  1.  Why do you think the sisters hid the fact of their adoption and their friendship with each other from their families and friends?  What role do you think Avery imagines her family could be implicated in as concerns the Tennessee Children’s Home Society?  Do you think those who adopted from Georgia Tann were complicit in her crimes?  Do you think they had some inkling of her nefarious practices?
  2. What clues did the Seviers have that Georgia Tann was not operating a morally sound operation?  What recourses were available to them to address the situation?
  3. What do you think motivated Georgia Tann in stealing children for adoption?  Why do you think she was able to get away with what she did?
  4. How did Georgia Tann change the face of adoption?
  5. Name the ways in which Georgia Tann’s industry violated the civil rights of the children and families involved?  Do you think that such injustices continue in modern day?
  6. May is surprised to be welcomed home by the Seviers.  She even learns that she can trust and love them.  Do you think it was necessary for her to return to the Arcadia and see Briny to feel this way?
  7. What is the symbolism of the dragonfly bracelet?  And what is its significance to this novel?
  8. Lisa Wingate has written more than 20 novels.  What was it about this one that made it such a hit and bestseller, do you think?
  9. I found myself wanting to edit to book in certain ways to enhance it.  If you could change this book in any way, what would you change?
  10. How did the inclusion of Avery’s story affect this novel for you?  Did it enhance or detract from the meatier story which was May’s?
  11. What are some of the morals that Lisa Wingate, a Christian inspirational writer, is attempting to get through to the reader in this novel?

Georgia Tann: Memphis Baby Adoption Scandal – Tube

Random House Book Club Kit

Lisa Wingate’s website