Author: Janet Benton
Publisher: Nan. A Talese
Type of book: motherhood, mother/daughter bond, babies, children, 1883, house for single mothers, work, money, finances, scrupulous people, cheating, coping, self, wet-nursing, friendship, betrayal
Year it was published: 2017
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 a life of poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.
Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a charity for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overpowers her heart. Mothers in her position have no sensible alternative to giving up their children, but Lilli can't bear such an outcome. Determined to chart a path toward an independent life, Lilli 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 perilous streets of a burgeoning American city. Lilli de Jong is at once a historical saga, an intimate romance, and a lasting testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood."
Main character includes Lilli de Jong, a "fallen" Friend who becomes a single mother and refuses to give up her daughter. Lilli is amazing, courageous, resourceful, intelligent and high principled. She is also extremely dedicated to her daughter and will do whatever she can for her. There are many other secondary characters like the Burnham family who decide to hire Lilli as a wet-nurse for their son as well as some of Lilli's family and even her intended and some people she meets along the way. Lilli's daughter sounds quite a bit like my son in that he was passionate about being fed, also hated being swaddled. (he allowed himself to be swaddled, but during sleep somehow those little arms and legs got loose.) Women of all sorts were captured in motherhood, be it those who gave up their babies or kept them.
Although women have come far, there is still a long way to go
The story is in first person narrative from Lilli's point of view told in diary entries in ten notebooks. The author has done a lot of research and is very passionate about the subject. Lilli's tale is intimate in scope yet it encompasses the bigger picture of life and work created against mothers. Also it shows the ugly side of humanity and of those who dare to take advantage of a woman's situation. I was also saddened a lot by how babies, born to wed and unwed working mothers were treated by the "caretakers" or by necessity.
About the Author
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. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
On my blog, I'd like to think of myself as a reviewer without bringing politics into my book reviews, especially the incendiary politics of today where both sides see each other as inhuman and are encouraged to continue to see one another this way. However, as I realized, in this particular review, its impossible to be removed from today, its impossible to not reflect on the commonality we humans share and how far we have come and how far to go. Its also heartbreaking to realize that all the progress women have made that I'm taking for granted would have had a different ending a hundred or more years ago, and that the world that some people desire to bring back would judge me and my son badly simply because I am an unmarried single mother who is raising a Hapa son. (Prior to 1960s, interracial marriage and children from those unions were reviled.) Its also distressing to realize that in America work is not tailored or accommodated towards mothers who are able to breastfed or who have recently had babies. If I could, I'd personally send this book to male politicians who honestly desire to bring back the world where women had little to no rights so they can experience the heartbreak and the struggle mothers of old went through. A beautifully well crafted love story to mothers and their children.
This is for HFVBT
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Review at Caryn, the Book Whisperer
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Review at Trisha Jenn Reads
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Review at 100 Pages a Day
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Review at Creating Herstory
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Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
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Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
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Review at SJ2B House of Books
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Review at A Bookish Affair
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Guest Post at A Bookish Affair
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Review at Just One More Chapter
5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)