Before We Were Yours
by Wingate, Lisa






THE BLOCKBUSTER HIT&;Over two million copies sold! A New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller

Look for Lisa Wingate&;s powerful new historical novel, The Book of Lost Friends, available now!

&;Poignant, engrossing.&;&;People &; &;Lisa Wingate takes an almost unthinkable chapter in our nation&;s history and weaves a tale of enduring power.&;&;Paula McLain


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 the dark truth. 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 to redemption.

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&;Lisa 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.

Publishers Weekly&;s #3 Longest-Running Bestseller of 2017 &; Winner of the Southern Book Prize &; If All Arkansas Read the Same Book Selection

This edition includes a new essay by the author about shantyboat life.





Lisa Wingate is a former journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Her work has won or been nominated for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, the Carol Award, the Christy Award, and the RT Reviewers&; Choice Award. Wingate lives in the Ouachita Mountains of southwest Arkansas.





Newly engaged Avery Stafford leaves her job as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., to go back home to South Carolina, where she is being groomed to succeed her ailing father, a U.S. senator. At a meet-and-greet at a nursing home, she encounters May, a woman who seems to have some link with Avery's Grandma Judy, now suffering from dementia. The reader learns early on that May was once Rill Foss, one of five siblings snatched from their shanty home on the Mississippi and taken to the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children's Home Society. The society seems too Dickensian to be true, except that it was, and its black-market adoption practices caused a stir in the mid-twentieth century. Rill's harrowing account of what befell the Foss children and Avery's piecing together (with the help of a possible new love interest) of how Rill and Grandma Judy's stories converge are skillfully blended. Wingate (The Sea Keeper's Daughters, 2015) writes with flair, and her distinctly drawn characters and adept use of the adoption scandal will keep readers turning the pages. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.





Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children's Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father's cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family's past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, an d placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate's fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book. Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.





PRELUDE 

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 the attic fan rattles overhead, pulling at wet air that has no desire to be moved.

The scent of pine wafts in, and the woman&;s screams press out as the nurses hold her fast to the bed. Sweat pools on her skin and rushes down her face and arms and legs. She&;d be horrified if she were aware of this.

She is pretty. A gentle, fragile soul. Not the sort who would intentionally bring about the catastrophic unraveling that is only, this moment, beginning. In my multifold years of life, I have learned that most people get along as best they can. They don&;t intend to hurt anyone. It is merely a terrible by-product of surviving.

It isn&;t her fault, all that comes to pass after that one final, merciless push. She produces the very last thing she could possibly want. Silent flesh comes forth&;a tiny, fair-haired girl as pretty as a doll, yet blue and still.

The woman has no way of knowing her child&;s fate, or if she does know, the medications will cause the memory of it to be nothing but a blur by tomorrow. She ceases her thrashing and surrenders to the twilight sleep, lulled by the doses of morphine and scopolamine administered to help her defeat the pain.

To help her release everything, and she will.

Sympathetic conversation takes place as doctors stitch and nurses clean up what is left.

&;So sad when it happens this way. So out of order when a life has not even one breath in this world.&;

&;You have to wonder sometimes . . . why . . . when a child is so very wanted . . .&;

A veil is lowered. Tiny eyes are shrouded. They will never see.

The woman&;s ears hear but cannot grasp. All slips in and slips away. It is as if she is attempting to catch the tide, and it drains through her clenched fingers, and finally she floats out along with it.

A man waits nearby, perhaps in the hallway just outside the door. He is stately, dignified. Unaccustomed to being so helpless. He was to become a grandfather today.

Glorious anticipation has melted into wrenching anguish.

&;Sir, I am so terribly sorry,&; the doctor says as he slips from the room. &;Rest assured that everything humanly possible was done to ease your daughter&;s labor and to save the baby. I understand how very difficult this is. Please offer our condolences to the baby&;s father when you are finally able to reach him overseas. After so many disappointments, your family must have held such great hope.&;

&;Will she be able to have more?&;

&;It isn&;t advisable.&;

&;This will be the end of her. And her mother as well, when she learns of it. Christine is our only child, you know. The pitter-patter of little feet . . . the beginning of a new generation . . .&;

&;I understand, sir.&;

&;What are the risks should she . . .&;

&;Her life. And it&;s extremely unlikely that your daughter would ever carry another pregnancy to term. If she were to try, the results could be . . .&;

&;I see.&; The doctor lays a comforting hand on the heartbroken man, or this is the way it happens in my imaginings. Their gazes tangle.

The physician looks over his shoulder to be certain that the nurses cannot hear. &;Sir, might I suggest something?&; he says quietly, gravely. &;I know of a woman in Memphis. . . .&;

Chapter 1

Avery Stafford
present day. Aiken, South Carolina

I take a breath, scoot to the edge of the seat, straighten my jacket as the limo rolls to a stop on the boiling-hot asphalt. News vans wait along the curb, accentuating the importance of this morning&;s seemingly innocuous meeting.

But not one moment of this day will happen by accident. These past two months in South Carolina have been all about making sure the nuances are just right&;shaping the inferences so as to hint, but do no more.

Definitive statements are not to be made.

Not yet, anyway.

Not for a long time, if I have my way about it.

I wish I could forget why I&;ve come home, but even the fact that my father isn&;t reading his notes or checking the briefing from Leslie, his uber-efficient press secretary, is an undeniable reminder. There&;s no escaping the tagalong enemy that rides silently in the car with us. It&;s here in the backseat, hiding beneath the gray tailored suit that hangs a hint too loose over my father&;s broad shoulders.

Daddy stares out the window, his head resting to one side. He&;s relegated his aides and Leslie to another car.
&;You feeling all right?&; I reach across to brush a long blond hair&;mine&;off the seat so it won&;t cling to his trousers when he gets out. If my mother were here, she&;d whip out a mini lint brush, but she&;s home, preparing for our second event of the day&;a family Christmas photo that must be taken months early&; just in case Daddy&;s prognosis worsens.

He sits a bit straighter, lifts his head. Static magnetizes his thick, gray hair, so that it&;s sticking straight out. I want to smooth it down for him, but I don&;t. It would be a breach of protocol.

If my mother is intimately involved in the micro-aspects of our lives, like fretting over lint and planning for the family Christmas photo in July, my father is the opposite. He is distant&;an island of staunch maleness in a household of women. I know he cares deeply about my mother, my two sisters, and me, but he seldom voices the sentiment out loud. I also know that I&;m his favorite, but the one who confuses him most. He is a product of an era when women went to college to secure the requisite M-R-S degree. He&;s not quite sure what to do with a thirty-year-old daughter who graduated top of her class from Columbia Law and actually enjoys the gritty world of a federal DA&;s office.

Whatever the reason&;perhaps just because the positions of perfectionist daughter and sweet daughter were already taken in our family&;I have always been brainiac daughter. I loved school and it was the unspoken conclusion that I would be the family torchbearer, the son-replacement, the one to succeed my father. Somehow, I always imagined that I&;d be older when it happened and that I would be ready.

Now, I look at my dad and think, How can you not want it, Avery? This is what he&;s worked for all his life. What generations of Staffords have strived for since the revolutionary war, for heaven&;s sake. Our family has always held fast to the guiding rope of public service. Daddy is no exception. Since graduating from West Point and serving as an Army aviator before I was born, he has upheld the family name with dignity and determination.

Of course you want this,
I tell myself again. You&;ve always wanted this. You just didn&;t expect it to happen yet, and not this way, that&;s all.

Secretly, I&;m clinging by all ten fingernails to the best-case scenario. The enemies will be vanquished on both fronts&;political and medical. My father will be cured by the combination of the surgery that brought him home from the summer congressional session early and the chemo pump he must wear strapped to his leg every three weeks. My move home to Aiken will be temporary.

Cancer will no longer be a part of our lives.

It can be beaten. Other people have done it, and if anyone can, Senator Talmage Stafford can.

There is not, anywhere, a stronger man or a better man than my dad.

&;Ready?&; he asks, straightening his suit. It&;s a relief when he swipes down the rooster tail in his hair. I&;m not prepared to cross the line from daughter to caretaker.

&;Right behind you.&; I&;d do anything for him, but I hope it&;s many more years before we&;re forced to reverse the roles of parent and child. I&;ve learned how hard that is while watching my father struggle to make decisions for his mother.

My once quick-witted, fun-loving Grandma Judy is now only a ghost of her former self. As painful as that is, Daddy can&;t talk to anyone about it. If the media clues into the fact that we&;ve moved her to a facility, especially an upscale one, on a lovely estate not ten miles from here, it&;ll be a lose-lose situation, politically speaking. Given the burgeoning scandal over a series of wrongful death and abuse cases involving corporate-owned eldercare facilities in our state, Daddy&;s political enemies will either point out that only those with money can afford premium care, or they&;ll accuse my father of warehousing his mom because he is a cold-hearted lout who cares nothing for the elderly. They&;ll say that he&;d happily turn a blind eye toward the needs of the helpless, if the profits of his friends and campaign contributors are involved.






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