Before We Were Yours Summary,Characters,Themes & Synopsis

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TitleBefore We Were Yours
AuthorLisa Wingate
Publication DateJune 6, 2017
No. of Pages342 pages
GenreHistorical Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
SettingTennessee (1939) and South Carolina (Present day)


The main characters of “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate are:

  1. Rill Foss – A young girl with a strong spirit, taken from her family and placed in an orphanage, determined to reunite her siblings.
  2. Avery Stafford – A successful lawyer from a prominent family, curious about her grandmother’s past and the connection to the orphanage.
  3. Queenie – A caring and compassionate woman who helps the orphans at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
  4. Briny Foss – Rill’s father, a riverboat captain who loves his family deeply.
  5. Fern – Rill’s younger sister, who shares a close bond with her.
  6. May Crandall – Avery’s grandmother, whose past holds a connection to the orphanage’s secrets.
  7. Judy Stafford – Avery’s mother, involved in her family’s political legacy.
  8. Trent Turner – Avery’s fiancé, a supportive and understanding man.
  9. Miss Tann – The cruel director of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
  10. Gabion – A kind-hearted boy who befriends Rill and her siblings at the orphanage.


  1. Family Bonds – The novel explores the unbreakable ties of family and the lengths people will go to in order to protect and reunite with their loved ones.
  2. Historical Injustice – The story sheds light on the real-life scandal of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, highlighting the heart-wrenching experiences of children who were taken from their families and sold for profit.
  3. Identity and Belonging – The characters grapple with questions of identity as they confront their pasts, learning to find a sense of belonging despite the challenges they face.
  4. Resilience and Hope – Even in the face of adversity, the characters exhibit remarkable resilience, showing how hope can drive people to overcome the darkest of circumstances.
  5. Power of Memory – Memories play a significant role, showing how they can both haunt and heal, impacting the characters’ present and future.
  6. Societal Secrets – The novel uncovers hidden truths about the systemic abuse and exploitation of vulnerable individuals, highlighting the importance of confronting uncomfortable truths in society.
  7. Generational Impact – The impact of trauma and secrets ripples across generations, affecting characters in the past and the present, showcasing how history can shape lives.
  8. Love and Sacrifice – The characters demonstrate sacrificial love, making choices that prioritize the well-being of others over personal comfort or happiness.
  9. Dual Narrative – The book alternates between two timelines, illustrating the connections between characters from the past and the present, and emphasizing the enduring impact of the past on the present.
  10. Search for Home – The characters’ journeys involve a quest to find a place to call home, both physically and emotionally, as they navigate the challenges of displacement and loss.


“Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate is a powerful novel that alternates between two timelines. In the 1930s, it follows the lives of the Foss children, who are kidnapped and placed in an abusive orphanage.

Decades later, in the present day, Avery Stafford, a young woman from a prominent family, discovers a family secret linked to the Foss children’s past.

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“Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate Summary

The narrative begins with a flashback to 1939 in Baltimore, Maryland, where Rill Foss imagines a traumatic childbirth of a woman named Christine – who comes from an affluent household and has come with her father, who stands in for her husband, who is out of town. Despite her bravery and determination, she gives birth to a stillborn child. The doctor informs Christine’s father of the tragic news and mentions a woman in Memphis who resolves the situation.

The second chapter transports readers to modern-day Aiken, South Carolina, and the global community of Avery Stafford, a young and astute lawyer and the daughter of Senator Wells Stafford. Her father is accompanying her to an event at a nursing home. Avery had gone several miles, abandoning her work and fiancé, Elliot, to be with her family & take care of her chronically ill father, intending to replace him in the United States Senate if the illness persisted.

At the occasion, Avery is approached by a weird older woman named May Crandall (and Rill, her actual name), who addresses her as Fern and takes her dragonfly bracelet given to her by Judy Stafford, her grandmother. Avery doesn’t notice at first, but when she comes home, she finds it’s gone.

Soon after, she receives a call from the nursing home informing her that they discovered a bracelet they believe belongs to her in May’s possession. Avery is intrigued and goes to fetch the bracelet, but while there, she enters & walks about May’s room, where she discovers a family photo of Judy, her grandmother. When May finds her, she informs her that she knows Judy from a previous guild.

Avery takes a photo of Judy and travels to her nursing home. Judy exclaims, “Queenie!” (as stated in Before We Were Yours), mutters about a hidden story, and demands Avery vow not to tell anybody what she has heard. Avery becomes even more intrigued and decides to look into it.

She once discreetly investigates Judy’s notebook and discovers contact information belonging to Trent Turner Sr. Still, when she tracks it, she meets his grandson – Trent Turner Jr., whose grandpa had died just a few days before. Trent eventually begins working with Judy to solve the secret that connects Judy and May after a series of disagreeable episodes.
When Avery discovered the final entry on Judy’s old typewriter, Judy was studying at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society (TCHS). She comes upon the name Georgia Tann. On the other hand, Trent discovers a paper belonging to his grandpa that shows the actual origin of Shad Arthur Foss’ adoption.

Avery investigates Georgia Tann’s past and learns she was a serial kidnapper who ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and illegally obtained over 5,000 children. They quickly discover that Trent’s grandpa was one of the children, but Avery is still unsatisfied with their findings thus far.

May informs them that she knew Trent’s grandfather (who was named Stevie back then) and that he even took care of him and a few other youngsters during a visit to the nursing home. Later, Avery & Trent follow a vehicle parked at Judy’s house to Augusta. They enter, look around, and discover a family portrait of four ladies wearing matching bracelets. Avery recognizes Judy & May in the image.

The housekeeper’s son apprehends them and brings them to see his mother, Hootsie. After listening to them, she pulls out an old document from Judy’s file with a secret that will answer all of Avery’s queries. Judy is one of Queenie’s twins; the other is a son named Shad Arthur. The document demonstrates how Judy was kidnapped and sold to Christine’s father after Christine gave birth to a stillborn child.

The following chapter is a flashback in which Rill (as a 12-year-old) looks after all four of her siblings while their father, Briny, is in the hospital for Queenie’s childbirth. Soon after, Rill and her sisters are abducted and transported to Georgia Tann at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis, where they are individually sold for a high price.

Queenie has health issues and dies shortly after learning the news – as well as her twin was stillborn. Briny is saddened and becomes an alcoholic, eventually killing himself and destroying his shanty boat home.

At present, Avery has a better understanding of the puzzles. She now understands that May & Judy are Queenie and Briny’s children. She wishes to reconcile the two sisters & informs her father of her plans. Avery then reconsiders her personal life & decides to end her relationship with Elliot to date, Trent, who has a little infant kid. She takes a job in the area with a legal company and revitalizes her career.


What is the plot of Before We Were Yours?

Before We Were Yours follows two storylines: one in the 1930s where children are kidnapped and sold, and another in the present day where a woman uncovers a family’s hidden past.

What happens at the end of the book Before We Were Yours?

At the end of “Before We Were Yours,” the two main characters, Avery and Rill, uncover their family’s past, find their connection and work towards healing from the painful history of a Tennessee children’s home.

Does before we were yours have a happy ending?

Yes, “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate has a mix of sad and hopeful moments. It ends on a positive note, giving a sense of closure and hope for the characters.

About the Author-Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate
Full NameLisa Wingate
Birth DateUnknown
GenreHistorical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Notable Works-Before We Were Yours
-The Book of Lost Friends
-The Prayer Box
Writing StyleEmotional, Character-driven
AwardsGoodreads Choice Award, Christy Award, Carol Award
BackgroundJournalism, Inspirational Speaking
InfluenceFocus on family, history, and connections

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