Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

 Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

 Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family's home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Nan A. Talese
Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages
Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

Lilli de Jong is a powerful story of a mother's unfailing love for her child.  Within a year of her mother's death Lilli's world has taken a complete about face, gone is her sense of security and all she believed in.  Left to her own devices at the age of 23 she is alone and pregnant. Told through diary entries the reader is given such a vivid picture of what the scorned of society had to endure.

As I was reading I figured a 4 star was due here, but once I hit the half way mark I could not put this down. I bounced this up to 5 stars for so many reasons.  First off, the story, I am not sure what I expected with this one but I got so much more.  The author didn't hold back as she described life for an unwed mother, not just what mom had to endure but these unwelcomed babies as well.  It sure did open my eyes and make me very grateful not to have to witness any of that.  Told from Lilli's point of view made it all the more emotional and you could feel her desperation, feelings of hopelessness as well as her determination to not just survive but build a life for her child as well.

This is the author's debut!? Wow I can't wait to see what she comes up with next. Suffice to say this was an engaging story, the author stayed true to the time period and it's obvious she spent a fair amount of time researching for this book, it wasn't hard to feel like I was transported to back to 1883.  Definitely a book I highly recommend.


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Janet Benton’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton's website for more information and updates.

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