*If you are new here, WELCOME! For Before We Were Yours, I provide your book club with a brief summary, a recipe, and discussion questions in that order!
Do you love novels based on true life events? If so, you should check out Lisa Wingate’s novel, Before We Were Yours. The novel centers around the true life events that occurred in the early half of the 20th Century at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Georgia Tann, who took over the Society in the 1920s, began trafficking children through the organization. She often took children away from their poor mother’s and placed them for adoption with wealthy parents, to her profit. The novel follows a fictional girl as she and her siblings fall into the hands of Georgia Tann.
Before We Were Yours is a dual timeline novel, meaning that half of the book follows the children and the other half follows a young attorney, home on leave, who discovers a hidden secret in her grandmother’s past and works to uncover the truth.
I actually began reading this book about a year ago and set it aside. While this book does deal with a heavy topic, I wish I would have pursued and read it earlier because it is a wonderful story about the question of the meaning of family and the way both main characters’ understanding of family evolves.
If your book club hasn’t read Before We Were Yours, I recommend you consider it for an upcoming pick. Beyond learning about a part of American history that was brushed under the rug for many decades, the novel delves deep into the culture of the people who live on shantyboats along the Mississippi River, which was fascinating to read about.
If you loved books like Where the Crawdads Sing and To Kill a Mockingbird, you will love this story about another fiery young girl fighting the odds in the American South.
If your book club picks Before We Were Yours to read, I’ve provided book club questions and a delicious recipe for your meeting below! So if you are looking for food ideas and more, keep reading!
Here’s a brief summary of Before We Were Yours:
1939: When twelve-year-old Rill is left in charge of her four siblings and their shantyboat home, she promises her father to keep everything safe while he rushes her mother to the hospital, but she’s unaware of the strangers lurking along the riverbanks. When she and her siblings find themselves in the hands of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and realize Georgia Tann’s intentions, Rill vows to keep them together and find the way home.
Present Day: Avery Stafford has a prestigious career as a prosecutor, a handsome fiance, and a seat in State government, if she wants it. But when she returns home during her father’s illness, a family heirloom raises questions from a stranger that she isn’t prepared to answer. To protect herself, and her family, she must get to the bottom of a family secret she feels sure will lead to devastation, but Avery might just be surprised and find more than she hoped.
For the Before We Were Yours recipe:
Since half of the book discusses the children’s struggles in the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, I’m sure you can guess (or already know) that half of the book has little mention of food. That said, I was still able to pluck some good options for a recipe from the pages of Before We Were Yours. I wound up choosing to make a dish of cheesy grits and fried shrimp. The grits come from Rill’s story after she meets the Seviers. And, the shrimp from Avery’s story after she meets Trent. So, the dish is a combination of the two stories in one scrumptious bowl.
Plus it’s a Southern favorite!
If shrimp and grits doesn’t sound right for your book club, here are a some food ideas from the pages of Before We Were Yours:
- Birthday Cake – May and Avery meet for the first time at the nursing home during a political event – Chapter 1
- Hoecakes and eggs – Silas and Rill make breakfast on the Arcadia – Chapter 6
- Fried Shrimp and popcorn – Trent and Avery meet in Edisto – Chapter 11
- Eggs, grits, and strawberries – The Seviers’ breakfast table — Chapter 20
- Hamburgers and fries — Avery, Trent and Jonah on a mission to Augusta — Chapter 21
- Flapjacks, salt fish, and apple slices — The last meal on Arcadia — Chapter 24
Whatever you decide to serve, just steer clear of serving peppermints! I don’t think I’ll ever look at one the same…
If your book club is looking for food ideas for Before We Were Yours, look no further!
Shrimp and Grits Casserole:
Shrimp and Grits Casserole
- 1 lb large shrimp peeled and declined
- 2-3 slices of bacon cooked and chopped
- 1 red bell pepper chopped
- 3-4 green onions chopped
- 1 jalapeño seeded and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 4- ounce can of green chilies
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 3/4 cup quick grits 5-minute grits
- 1 egg
- 2 cups (8 oz) Gouda, shredded
- 2 tbsp butter
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In a saute pan melt one tablespoon of butter until it starts to lightly brown. Place the shrimp in a single layer in the saute pan (you may have to do batches of shrimp). Cook the shrimp for about a minute and flip to cook 1-2 minutes more or until they are no longer translucent. Remove from the pan onto a plate and finish cooking all of the shrimp in the same fashion.
- Melt the second tbsp of butter in the saute pan and, once browning, add the chopped bell pepper and jalapeño and the white and light green parts of the green onion, reserving the dark parts for garnish. Cook for 3-5minutes until beginning to soften.
- Add in the garlic and green chilies and cook 1-2 more minutes until the garlic is fragrant.
- Pour in the chicken broth and slowly stir in the grits. Bring the mixture to a simmer and continue cooking 5-7 minutes until the grits thicken. Remove from the heat.
- Crack the egg in a small bowl and drop a small amount of grits into the egg to temper the egg (prevent it from scrambling in the hot grits). Then slowly add the egg to the grits mixture and stir.
- Add into the grits one cup of the Gouda, the cooked shrimp, and the chopped and cooked bacon and stir.
- Pour the grits mixture into a 2-3 quart baking dish. Top with the remaining cheese.
- Cook for 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest 5 minutes before serving.
Before We Were Yours Book Club Questions:
*WARNING: May contain spoilers!
- Although this story is fiction, it is based on the real-life Georgia Tann and her Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Before reading, did you know about Georgia Tann or what she had done? Share any details you might have already known or that you discovered during the process of reading this book.
- This is a dual timeline story told from the viewpoints of Rill Foss and Avery Stafford. Rill’s story is marked by dramatic events and tragedy. Avery’s is a story of self-discovery. Which spoke to you personally the most? Why? Which did you enjoy reading the most (not necessarily the same thing!)?
- It’s mentioned several times that Georgia Tann helped to change the stigma of adoption from a negative to a positive. Do you think that this largely positive impact to society counterbalances in any way the harm she did in individual lives of children who may not have needed adoption, like Rill? Why do you think she found the need to rip children away from their families to accomplish this when so many children really do need a good home? Discuss this weighty topic, sharing all viewpoints.
- In the end, Rill finds new music in her new life and eventually goes on to shield her future family from the truth of her origins. Avery, too, seems to shield her true self from her family, afraid that who she is will cause them pain and disappointment. Discuss these two different but shared stories. Why do you think that we often believe the lie that our true selves will hurt those we love?
- If you feel led to do so, discuss a family secret you found out after the death of the secret holder. Do you wish they would have told you? Or are you glad that they tried to protect you?
- This story explores some hard, dark truths of child abuse and neglect. What part was hardest for you to read? In what scenes did you think the resiliency of the children was the most evident?
- Think of the characters in both story lines. Who was your favorite character? Why?
- The Mississippi River plays a large role in the book. Rill is deeply connected to the river life and with the river people, but, in the end, she chooses to return to the Seviers and their home. Later, she moves to California, but eventually returns to live out her last years in the cottage by the river with Fern. Discuss the river and its culture and which parts you enjoyed the most. Why do you think Rill was so connected to the river?
- Have you read any other Lisa Wingate books that you would recommend to the group? What other books have you read with similar themes to Before We Were Yours?
- Both Avery and Rill find endings to their stories that are different than they expected. Do you think that Rill was happy in her life? Do you think that Avery will be happy in her new path? Why or why not?
Have you read Before We Were Yours? What did you think? What are some similar books you’ve read?
Until next time, Happy Reading!
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