BOTM July 2018 - Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

NigheanDubh
Clan Fraser
Joined: September 17th, 2009, 3:16 am

June 29th, 2018, 1:53 pm #1

How would you rate Before We Were Yours?

Total votes: 10
6(60%)
4(40%)
0(0%)
0(0%)
0(0%)



Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

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, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

352 pages; published 2017

Discussion will begin on July 25th.  
"'I wish to God,' said Gideon with mild exasperation, 'that you'd talk--just once--in prose like other people.'"
--Game of Kings
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NigheanDubh
Clan Fraser
Joined: September 17th, 2009, 3:16 am

July 25th, 2018, 1:00 pm #2

The discussion for Lisa Wingate's Before We Were Yours is now open. 


Discussion Questions from Lit Lovers   I found some excellent questions at Lit Lovers.  In some cases, I chose questions or parts of the questions which I felt were more pertinent to the discussion of the book itself.  

1. Before We Were Yours alternates between the historical story of the Foss Children and the modern-day story of Avery Stafford. Did you have a favorite between these story lines? Which one and why?

3. When the sisters were originally reunited, they decided to keep their history to themselves rather than telling their families. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? What do you think the implications would have been if they had gone public? 

6. While Rill sees her life on the Arcadia through the idyllic eyes of childhood, May in her old age seems to acknowledge that she wouldn’t have traded the life she lived for a different one. Do you think she wonders whether Queenie and Briny’s unconventional existence on the Arcadia could would have been sustainable as times changed or more children were added to the family? Were Queenie and Briny responsible or careless in their choices? 

8. When fear of being caught threatens to prevent her from escaping Miss Murphy’s house, Rill tells herself, “I shush my mind because your mind can ruin you if you let it.” <snip>  May comments, “We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.” Are women particularly guilty of this? <snip>

9. Child trafficking, abuse, and economic disadvantage still imperil the lives and futures of children today. What can we as ordinary citizens do to prevent children from being robbed of safe, happy childhoods? What can society do to prevent people like Georgia Tann from taking advantage of the most helpless and vulnerable among us?  

10. Did you search for more information about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society after reading Before We Were Yours? What did you learn? Based on what you learned, what do you think motivated Georgia Tann? Why were so many people willing to be complicit in her schemes when they knew children were suffering? Was Georgia’s network a creature of the political corruption and societal attitudes of its time or could something like this happen today? Georgia Tann

12. How did Avery grow as a result of her discoveries about the family’s past? How did it change her view of herself and her family’s expectations for her? <snip> Who in Avery’s family might struggle most to accept her decision to change her life plans?

13. Do you think there will be a happily-ever-after ending for Avery and Trent? In your view, what might that look like?

14. How would you describe Rill as she struggles through the abduction, the orphanage, and her decision to return to her adoptive family? Did you admire her? What changes did you see in her as a result of the experience? How is she different when she gets to the Sevier’s house?

16. The Seviers seem to have adopted the Foss girls with good intentions. Do you think they were aware of or at all suspicious of Georgia Tann’s methods? Should they have been?

17. What symbolism do you see in the picture of the sisters on the wall? How do you think the sisters felt during their Sisters Days? 

18. Did you wish all seven of the Foss siblings could have found one another in the end? In your opinion, would that have been realistic or unrealistic? Why do you think the author chose not to bring all of the siblings back together?

19. This novel has garnered worldwide interest in the publishing industry and is being translated for publication in at least fourteen  countries. Why do you think the story drew international attention? What themes in it are universal?
"'I wish to God,' said Gideon with mild exasperation, 'that you'd talk--just once--in prose like other people.'"
--Game of Kings
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NigheanDubh
Clan Fraser
Joined: September 17th, 2009, 3:16 am

July 25th, 2018, 1:11 pm #3

This book just took my breath away.  After reading it, I knew I had to suggest it to the mods.  It was that compelling and gripping.  As a rule, I prefer historical fiction.  This was something more and my heartstrings are still not back where they're supposed to be.  

I will answer the first question from LitLovers.  While reading and loving the present in the story, I dreaded returning to the past.  I was so frightened for Rill and her siblings. So my favorite of the two parts was the present day events.  

From number 6:  "Were Queenie and Briny responsible or careless in their choices?"  I can't say that they had other options so I wouldn't dare judge.  Never in one's wildest dreams would they have foreseen what happened to their children and that their healthy children, born that night, would have also been stolen.  To think that there were so many complicit probably getting a cut from what Georgia Tann did.  What a menace.  But too many (and one is too many) let her get away with it.  Shame on them, not on Queenie and Briny.  

I loved how the author tied the pasts and that the romance between Avery and Trent happened.  I loved how that just came together--and that they did.  

More comments later...
"'I wish to God,' said Gideon with mild exasperation, 'that you'd talk--just once--in prose like other people.'"
--Game of Kings
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Lady Jayne
Clan Fraser
Joined: October 4th, 2009, 7:41 pm

July 26th, 2018, 3:58 am #4

Before We Were Yours was a page-turner, and all the more heartbreaking because even though the characters in the novel are fictional, the events surrounding the Tennessee's Children's Home Society were not. While reading the story, I was most comfortable in the present, mainly because I knew whatever horrible things happened in 1939, they were in the past, and May and Judy had survived, whatever their true backgrounds. 

Rill/May was an incredible character for a girl of 12 going on 13. So much responsibility was thrust on her at such a young age. There wasn't more she could have done to protect Gabion and Camellia, without causing herself more harm. She behaved admirably and did get back to Arcadia, but not before her parents were gone, either physically or mentally. Queenie and Briny may have been unconventional parents, but they loved their children. The doctors listed Queenie's death as due to blood poisoning, but there is no doubt in my mind that she died of a broken heart. Without her and the children, Briny is also broken. 

I do believe the Seviers were genuinely caring parents to Fern and Rill/May. The note from the author at the end of the novel mentions a few Hollywood celebrities who were on Georgia Tann's high-profile adoption list, including Joan Crawford and June Allyson and her husband, Dick Powell. They probably were the inspiration for the Seviers. With such powerful people supporting Georgia Tann, it was possible for her to continue with her children's home. In this day, such an atrocity might be harder to hide as social media is everywhere. Yet, even so, human trafficking still exists in parts of the world.

Before We Were Yours resonates with so many people because it is based on actual tragedies and tells the story of a young girl who persevered in the face of adversity that was entirely beyond her control. May and her sisters were able to reunite because of Trent Turner Sr./Stevie. It would have been wonderful to have all seven Foss children reunited, but it would not have been realistic given the tampering with birth records and names. As adults, the sisters could have revealed they were blood relatives, and possibly told their story publicly in efforts to locate Gabion and Judy's twin. 

The character of Arney is also key as she not only helps May escape, she also saves her from her past. As May explains "We saved each other. If not for Arney taking me back to the river, if not for what happened on the Arcadia, I could never have released Briny, and Queenie, and the river. I would've reached for the music all my life. By taking me back, Arney brought me forward" (317 hardcover). May had to see for herself that her old life was no longer possible. Too much had changed for her to go back to the way things were.

By learning the truth, Avery is empowered to choose her own future. I do think she and Trent have a future together. The search for the truth brought them together, but the mutual attraction and admiration for each promises to lead to a more permanent relationship. Their happy ending in one small way reconnects the paths of those little children who were taken from their families so long ago.

Lastly, the picture of the sisters on the wall was proof that love is thicker than water. I loved that they each had dragonfly bracelets to represent the siblings they "lost" -- Camellia, Gabion, and the twin brother. The bracelet was the clue that started off the whole mystery of who May Weathers really was and her connection to Avery's grandmother. All the pieces of the puzzle finally came together, as did the Foss sisters. As Hootsie said "What the mind don't member, the heart still know. Love, the strongest  thang of all. Stronger than all the rest" (296 hardcover). Shortly after these words, Hootsie gives Avery the crucifix that belonged to Queenie and the draft of her autobiography. "Secrets ain't a healthy thang, no matter how old they is. Sometimes the oldest secrets is the worst of all. You take yo'' grandmother to see Miss May. The heart still know. It still knows who it loves" (296 hardcover). 
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Joined: October 12th, 2016, 1:49 am

July 26th, 2018, 5:10 am #5

This story certainly captured me. I had no idea until I got to the end of the book that the story was based on some real events and characters. In some ways that made the whole circumstance  even more appalling. I always have trouble reading about the miss-treatment of women and children.  A year or so ago I would not have been able to keep reading. This may be too personal but just last year I was reunited with my only biological child, adopted as a baby & now 47. We are now very much a part of each other’s lives and by a quirk of fate, he lives 20 mins away from me.
 
1. Before We Were Yours alternates between the historical story of the Foss Children and the modern-day story of Avery Stafford. Did you have a favorite between these story lines? Which one and why? I loved Rill’s character strength and voice and I loved how the river and water in general is a constant thread through both stories.

3. When the sisters were originally reunited, they decided to keep their history to themselves rather than telling their families. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? What do you think the implications would have been if they had gone public? If they talked it over it was a sisterly decision in the hope of finding their brother and to prevent fallout upon their families both adoptive parents and marriages etc. A different world with much less transparency and stricter social norms especially in the South.

6. While Rill sees her life on the Arcadia through the idyllic eyes of childhood, May in her old age seems to acknowledge that she wouldn’t have traded the life she lived for a different one. Do you think she wonders whether Queenie and Briny’s unconventional existence on the Arcadia could would have been sustainable as times changed or more children were added to the family? Were Queenie and Briny responsible or careless in their choices? I felt Q & B were caught up in events that were beyond their power to control or alter and it was not their fault. When I was reading, it occurred to me that the authorities were so very quick to act  to take the children and I could not understand how or why if the parents were still alive. It was only much later on that I realized  that essentially the children  were being head hunted.

8. When fear of being caught threatens to prevent her from escaping Miss Murphy’s house, Rill tells herself, “I shush my mind because your mind can ruin you if you let it.” <snip>  May comments, “We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.” Are women particularly guilty of this? <snip> I think women are better at compartmentalising things in order to protect themselves and their families but I don’t think that is something to be guilty about. I see it as a strength.

9. Child trafficking, abuse, and economic disadvantage still imperil the lives and futures of children today. What can we as ordinary citizens do to prevent children from being robbed of safe, happy childhoods? What can society do to prevent people like Georgia Tann from taking advantage of the most helpless and vulnerable among us?  There will always be those who prey upon the helpless and vulnerable, young or old, for personal gain.

10. Did you search for more information about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society after reading Before We Were Yours? What did you learn? Based on what you learned, what do you think motivated Georgia Tann? Why were so many people willing to be complicit in her schemes when they knew children were suffering? Was Georgia’s network a creature of the political corruption and societal attitudes of its time or could something like this happen today? Georgia Tann

12. How did Avery grow as a result of her discoveries about the family’s past? How did it change her view of herself and her family’s expectations for her? <snip> Who in Avery’s family might struggle most to accept her decision to change her life plans? I wondered if in the real world family & societal pressure would impact upon the possibility of a shared future for Avery & Trent.

13. Do you think there will be a happily-ever-after ending for Avery and Trent? In your view, what might that look like? I would like to think so as there seems more than just chemistry between them. I was happy to see the fiancé given the flick. He seemed a bit of a cardboard addition.

14. How would you describe Rill as she struggles through the abduction, the orphanage, and her decision to return to her adoptive family? Did you admire her? What changes did you see in her as a result of the experience? How is she different when she gets to the Sevier’s house?  Rill’s resilience   & resource are extraordinary. I agree with Lady Jayne that the friendship with Arney was pivotal.

16. The Seviers seem to have adopted the Foss girls with good intentions. Do you think they were aware of or at all suspicious of Georgia Tann’s methods? Should they have been?

17. What symbolism do you see in the picture of the sisters on the wall? How do you think the sisters felt during their Sisters Days? 

18. Did you wish all seven of the Foss siblings could have found one another in the end? In your opinion, would that have been realistic or unrealistic? Why do you think the author chose not to bring all of the siblings back together? It was more realistic to leave some of the siblings lost forever.

19. This novel has garnered worldwide interest in the publishing industry and is being translated for publication in at least fourteen  countries. Why do you think the story drew international attention? What themes in it are universal? Love Loss Family.
I would never have come across or read this book without the BOTM suggestion.
Thanks, Heather
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DLT
Clan Fraser
DLT
Clan Fraser
Joined: May 26th, 2012, 7:06 am

July 26th, 2018, 10:03 pm #6

Thanks, NigheanDubh, for suggesting this book, as I would never have found it on my own, although the week that my library book turned up, I got notified that a second copy of the book was on hold at he library, for my daughter, who had heard about the book and ordered the book, so once she has finished reading it, I will be able to discuss it with her.
This was just so, so sad. The notion that people are worthless because of where they come from; that parents are no good because they cannot provide luxuries for their children, and that wealthy people can buy children to order. It all makes me shudder. I wonder if the influential people knew that Georgia Tann's activities were shady, but chose to say nothing so that they could get a child to raise as their own.
Poor Rill, being told to look after her siblings and then being powerless to do so. I am glad she brought Fern back to the house of the people who had adopted them, recognising that that was in Fern's best interests. I am glad that the family took in Rill as well, so that the two could be together. It is not stated, but I hope she became friends with the father, so that they could share their love of music.

It must have been so hard for the four siblings not to tell their families what had happened, but they probably could not bear the upheaval that it would have caused; the important thing was having found each other.

What a sad story, but I am glad to have read it.
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audiobooklover
Clan Fraser
Joined: July 19th, 2010, 10:09 pm

July 27th, 2018, 2:42 am #7

I'm not able to respond in great detail at the moment, but I wanted to say that I, too, enjoyed this book even though the subject matter was sad and disturbing.  I agree with what everyone has already said and I'm not sure I have much of anything new to add.

I no longer have the book (which I had to return to the library), but I remember noting that in the description of the cover image, there was one person credited with the girl on the left and the suitcase and a different person with the girl on the right.  I thought they did a good job of melding the two images.  I also think it is a very appropriate image for the subject matter of the book.

The present day stuff was much easier emotionally, but I think the past storyline was more compelling.  Not that I didn't like Avery's story and the characters - I did - but it wasn't quite as gripping as the disturbing and based-on-truth stuff in 1939.
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Pauline
Clan Fraser
Joined: October 1st, 2009, 11:19 pm

July 27th, 2018, 10:08 pm #8

This was a moving and powerful story.  I stayed up until 2am to finish it because I wanted to see how it would play out.  Children are so vulnerable in this world and one could argue that these children ended up with pretty decent adoptive parents except when you consider the fate of Camillia and the attempt to pimp out Rill rather than have her adopted.  I'm glad that she ended  up with Fern and family even though I think she would have remained on the periphery of this family relationship.  At least in the end, she was able to make peace with this decision by going back and seeing her shanty boat in a new light.  Such a tragedy that Briny and Queeny were so manipulated and , I agree, that she died of a broken heart.  I had hoped throughout the story that Judy was Camilia until I remembered the beginning of the story and realized that was what brought on the entire family's demise was Queeny being brought into the hospital while Avery's great grandmother was losing her baby.

This was one of my fears when we looked at adoption in years past.  Child trafficking remains today and I couldn't deal with the thought of finding out my happiness was at someone else's expense.  Not to start an immigrant discussion, but when I saw those children separated from their parents at the border, it was the first thing that went through my mind.  What if they aren't reunited?  What if they are abused by either the adults or other children?  How will they be traumatized by this in the future?  These are all the questions that this book brought to the surface.  We can blame the parents like Briny and Queeny, but the children still remain the issue.

I loved that they were reunited in the end and that there may be something between Avery and Trent, especially given their family history.  I have to say that I loved it that Trent Sr was little Stevie and he survived his life there.
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Lisa SF
Clan Fraser
Joined: August 2nd, 2011, 11:43 pm

July 29th, 2018, 6:50 am #9

I just finished the book, and since it's close to midnight, I'll keep my comments brief for now. I was so moved by this story, and like others, was just so blown away by the true story it's based on. Rill showed amazing strength in caring for her siblings and trying to keep them together. It's tragic but realistic that they were never ever to find Gabion, the missing twin, or to know for sure what became of poor Camellia. I do wish we'd learned how Rill and Fern eventually were reunited with the other two sisters. At least they knew to look for Lark, but it seems quite mysterious that Judy and the others would manage to find one another. I also didn't quite believe that once reunited as adults, they'd hide their relationship from their families. Why not tell their husbands and children that they've been reunited with beloved sisters?

Still, I was so touched by the ending of the book, knowing that May and Judy would be together to spend their remaining years in one another's company. So sweet and lovely.

I was less interested in Avery's love story and the plot about her father's political career. I liked Avery as a character, but the heart and soul of the story (for me, anyway) was the story of Rill, Fern, and the other children, and the terrible ordeal they experienced. It was so touching that Stevie grew up to be a man who worked so hard to help others find the truth.

At first, I didn't think the Seviers would be good parents. They only adopted the girls to help the wife get over her depression and sorrow for all those lost babies -- but ultimately, they gave the girls a safe, nurturing home and a good life.

I'm so glad we read this one!

And hevva, thank you for sharing your own experiences with us. This must have been an especially powerful read for you. I'm so glad that you and your son have reconnected and are now a part of each other's lives -- how beautiful.
"There are no faster or firmer friendships than those formed between people who love the same books." - Irving Stone

Just another reader with a blog... check it out here.
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Joined: October 12th, 2016, 1:49 am

July 30th, 2018, 5:17 am #10

Lisa SF... I never expected to be so blessed. I managed 'Before we Were Yours'  mainly because of Rill I think, as I loved her voice...but I couldn't handle 'The Tea Girl Of Hummingbird Lane'. Too much & too emotional, fascinating especially because of the information about tea growing but not for me. 
Heather
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Joined: January 31st, 2017, 11:53 pm

August 4th, 2018, 2:06 am #11

This was a powerful book and thank you Nighean Dubh for recommending it.  The historical story of the Foss children was much more difficult to read and I was glad for the modern story.  It provided an emotional break which helped me get through the anger at the injustice in the book.  But the story of these kidnapped children is what made the book so compelling.  
When the sisters were originally reunited, they decided to keep their history to themselves rather than telling their families. Do you agree or disagree with this decision? What do you think the implications would have been if they had gone public?  As a reader, I wished they had told their families but I can see why they didn't.  What the sisters had with each other was special.  Going public would have destroyed their unique relationship and they would have been hounded from all sorts of people.  Press, family, maybe prosecutors.  They were denied so much in being separated and I can understand that they just wanted to have their sisters to themselves, only.  In addition, that was their way of regaining some control in their family of origin.

Were Queenie and Briny responsible or careless in their choices? They were not careless.  They we as much the victims as their children were.  

Did you search for more information about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society after reading Before We Were Yours? What did you learn? Based on what you learned, what do you think motivated Georgia Tann?  I didn't realize that this book was based on an historical figure, Georgia Tann, until I finished the book and I did look her up.  I was appalled to learn of the corruption on all levels of society that allowed this to take place.  The police, hospital staff, judges- people who are supposed to look out for us.  What made me so angry is that only the rich had rights.  It's an old story but no less infuriating because it's been going on since the beginning of time.   
I think Georgia Tann was motivated by greed and power and it is something that is not limited to her era.  It made me angry that she never paid for her crimes.

Camellia was the character that stuck with me.  She was the child who fought the most to make herself heard.  On the boat she was loved and tolerated even though she was often punished.  But in Georgia Tann's world her fierce spirit wouldn't be tolerated and she 'disappeared'.  I think she was killed and buried without a trace.  This is a story of survival and an outspoken child couldn't survive in that environment.   Don't make waves was the lesson of Camellia.  It was interesting, though, that May did make waves and complain, but she was no longer a poor child.  An adult with wealth can afford to make waves.
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