About the Book

Book Protagonist: Avery Stafford
Publication Date: 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Themes and Analysis

Before We Were Yours

By Lisa Wingate

‘Before We Were Yours’ touches across a wide range of themes: From virtues - such as family bonds and values, to vices - such as political corruption, child molestation, illegal child adoptions and trafficking.

Lisa Wingate’s historical epic ‘Before We Were Yours’ serves, to the reader, as an eye-opener for the many atrocities carried out by Georgia Tann (and her like), who’s probably the biggest child trafficker in America’s history. Some of the themes here are touching, and we’ll take a look at the best ones as captured by Lisa Wingate.

Before We Were Yours Themes

Child Trafficking and Abuse

A truly sad, heartbreaking theme and the reason why readers have a book to read in Lisa Wingate’s ‘Before We Were Yours’. Although mostly captured in flashbacks of more than fifty years ago, this theme doesn’t stay buried in the past as it keeps on hunting the victims and their loved ones into the present and throughout the pages of the book.

Individual and government corruption

Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours’ exposes the excesses of not only individuals but also those of the government and authorities. Georgia Tann and caliber for beyond human dignity to make money, but they didn’t operate alone as they had the assistance of some law enforcement personnel when the business of illegally moving the children was booming.

Economic Hardship

Being the precedence to the central theme of child trafficking, economic hardship is the reason people like the character of Georgia Tann take recourse to illegal activities involving children. After the event of The Great Depression came sweeping poverty that affected millions of Americans. There was mass unemployment and people were pushed to the edge. While some stuck to honorable means of making a living, others took recourse to drastic, unethical paths.

Key Moments in Before We Were Yours

  1. The book begins with a flashback to Baltimore Maryland, in 1939, as Rill Foss retells the sad story of a wealthy woman who delivers a stillborn.
  2. Following the sad event, the doctor consoles her father – who is representing her husband who’s out of town – and tells him he knows of a woman in Memphis who has a solution.
  3. In the present day, Avery attends a nursing event with her father, Senator Wells. She leaves work and Elliot – her fiancé – behind and has come home to spend time with her father who is sick, to replace him at the US senate-house if the sickness persists.
  4. Avery notices that Judy her grandmother, who is staying at a nursing home, is increasingly growing senile and consistently mutters about a family secret.
  5. Back at the nursing event, an old woman called May Crandall sneaks up to her, calls her Fern, and makes away with her dragonfly bracelet which belongs to Judy – her grandmother. She doesn’t notice at the time.
  6. While at home, she gets a call from the nursing home informing her they found a bracelet in May’s possession that may belong to her. Avery is fascinated by May and wants to know more about her, so she goes to the nursing home. She snoops around May’s possession and finds a picture of someone looking strikingly like Judy. She takes a photo snap of it and leaves.
  7. She shows the picture to Judy and she replies “Queenie”, and talks about “Arcadia” (as quoted in ‘Before We Were Yours), warning Avery not to tell anyone what she’s heard. Avery is confused more than ever. She itches to know more.
  8. She goes and searches through Judy’s dairy, finds a number belonging to one Trent Turner Sr., calls it but it is Trent Turner Jr. who receives the call and says that the real owner was his grandfather who had passed away a few days ago.
  9. Avery talks about Judy with Trent and Trent says his grandfather left some documents belonging to Judy. They take a look and find it’s an adoption document for Shad Arthur Foss, Judy’s twin brother. Meanwhile, Avery on her own dissects Judy’s old typewriter and finds out that she had been researching the Tennessee Children’s Home Society operated by Georgia Tann. Also, more files were brought in by the Trent center around the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
  10. Avery does research on Georgia Tann and finds out that she was a child trafficker who abducted thousands of children with the Tennessee Children’s Home Society at about the same time years back. Trent finds that his grandfather was one of those children. Avery is still not satisfied.
  11. They go and meet with May and she tells them she knew Trent’s grandfather (Stevie), and that she took care of him and a few other kids back then.
  12. Avery and Trent go for lunch and while at it see a lift parked by Judy’s house. They trace the lift to another house in Augusta. They go in and find an old family picture of four women, with Judy and May among the four of them, all wearing dragonfly bracelets.
  13. The housekeeper finds them and takes them to his mother – Hootsie, who provides Avery with a final piece of the document – where Judy had written down a proof that her real parents were Queenie and Briny, and how she and her twin brother Arthur were taken away front them and sold to Christine’s father after Christine had a stillborn.
  14. There’s a flashback to 1939, where 12-year-old Rill (May) takes care of her younger siblings as her parents, Queenie and Briny, go to the hospital for Queenie’s delivery of her twin.
  15. Rill and her siblings are illegally taken away by Georgia Tann’s accomplices to Memphis where they are sold to wealthy families for money. At the hospital, Queenie and Briny are lied to that their twin babies are stillborn. The couple also receives the news that their remaining children Rill and others have gone missing.
  16. Queenie falls sick and dies. Briny becomes an alcoholic and kills himself after releasing the grapnel of Arcadia – their shanty boat.
  17. In the present day, Avery knows the truth. Her grandmother Judy is one of the twin babies born to Queenie – the other is a boy called Shad Arthur. She also learns that May and Judy are sisters, the last surviving members of the Foss family.
  18. She tells her father who helps to unite the two sisters. Avery also takes a new direction in her life as she breaks up with Elliot to start a romantic relationship with Trent, a single dad, and secures a job with a rights organization in her city.

Style and Tone

In ‘Before We Were Yours’, Lisa Wingate uses a polyvocal narrative style to transition way between the past and present, and between younger versions of her characters to their much older self. This allows the author to tell the stories in the first-person narrative; using Rill Foss (mostly for flashbacks), and Avery Stafford for present-day narrations. The tone comes mostly with emotions and nostalgia.

Figurative Language

Lisa Wingate master storyteller who gives life to her writing with vivid words and expressions. She is one to utilize a plethora of figurative languages, a quite a number of them – including metaphors, similes, and personifications – are found in her masterpiece, ‘Before We Were Yours’.

Analysis of Symbols in Before We Were Yours

Dragonfly Bracelets

These pieces of jewelry worn by Judy, May, and the other sisters symbolize family and blood. No matter how hard life throws them apart from each other, they are always with each other through the presence of their dragonfly bracelets. The bracelet also is proof they are the children of Queenie and Briny Foss.


This is the name for Briny’s shanty boat where the Foss family lives, and May represents their history and background of them. Judy tells Avery about it but warns her not to tell anyone. This goes to show that Arcadia houses the secret of her Foss’ family identity, one that has stayed hidden for decades.


What is Arcadia in Lisa Wingate’s ‘Before We Were Yours’?

Arcadia is the name of the shanty boat that Briny and Queenie live in with their Children Rill and the others. Arcadia is later unhinged and destroyed after Briny mistakenly released the grapnel and Arcadia capsizes.

What is the prevalent theme in Lisa Wingate’s ‘Before We Were Yours’?

Child trafficking and abuse seem to be the theme with the loudest echo in ‘Before We Were Yours’. It characterizes the majority of the plots in the past and creeps through the pages of the present.

What point of view does Lisa Wingate’s ‘Before We Were Yours’ utilized?

Lisa Wingate’s ‘Before We Were Yours’ utilizes the polyvocal voice – drifting between two characters each in the first-person perspective.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap
Share to...