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Lilli de Jong is a novel based in my current hometown neighborhood, so I was very excited to read it. I was doubly excited that it counts as one of the books to complete the 2018 Read & Go Challenge!
Ms. Benton takes us on a historical fiction journey about a young, unmarried Quaker woman who struggles to keep her baby. From the beginning, I could not put this book down. I was intrigued not only because it is based in Germantown and Philadelphia, generally, but because as a single mom, myself, I could very much relate to the struggles Lilli faced. At the same time, I also very much appreciated how much societal acceptance of single mothers has changed for the better (although still not where it needs to be). And, of course, it was great fun trying to find the real-life locations referenced in the book.
From the Publisher:
“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.”
—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
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.”