Before We Were Yours

Written by Lisa Wingate
Review by Anne Clinard Barnhill

Before We Were Yours begins in 1939 on a Mississippi River shanty, the Arcadia. The Foss family—parents Queenie and Briny, and their five children, Rill, Camiella, Lark, Fern and Gabion, the youngest and only boy—make their lives on the boat. Aboard the Arcadia, they fish, tell stories, swap goods with other riverboat people and learn the ways of the mighty Mississippi. Queenie teaches her children to read and Briny teaches them math. The family is swathed in love for one another until a tragedy changes everything.

Switch to the present day and you find Avery Stafford, privileged child of Aiken, South Carolina, who has returned home to help her senator father during a health crisis. She stumbles across an old woman in a nursing home while visiting her grandmother. This new resident hints at a mystery hidden in the Stafford family’s past, a mystery Avery cannot ignore.

This story is heartfelt and genuine, especially as Wingate explores the idea of home and family from a youngster’s point of view. In fact, Wingate is at her best as she describes the lives of Rill and Fern at the Children’s Home. One problem I found with the book is that the younger children blur together. When they are adopted or simply disappear, we see Rill’s grief, but we don’t feel it ourselves. We simply don’t know the children well enough.

The modern story isn’t as riveting as the story of the children, but does include a budding romance between Avery and Trent, a young man who helps her discover her family’s past. And, though the ending grew a little confusing for this reader, the book was a good read.