Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

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Lilli De Jong
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 charity 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.'”
My Review:
I cannot imagine what it must have been like for single, unwed mothers like Lilli in the nineteenth century, or earlier. I know it must be tough now, when there are a lot more resources. Honestly, neither this topic nor the topic of wet nurses really ever crossed my mind. I suppose I have thought about wet nurses briefly, as my mother was not able to nurse. We always wondered what would have become of all six of us children without the marvelous invention of infant formula. That’s about the extent of my curiosity, however. I like it when the topic of a fictional book peaks my interest and makes me think. Lilli’s narration through her diary entries is well written; her voice draws you in and allows you to see into her most intimate thoughts and feelings. It’s as if you’re there with her through her struggles, heartbreaks, and rare contentedness. The women who run the charity home where she delivers her baby are saints in my book. I enjoyed getting to know them and thought they were good, strong supporting characters. The other women at the charity home become your friends as Lilli stays there, and you find yourself hoping that they’ll all be ok. Clementina and Albert Burnham made quite the pair. Each of them were well developed and written. Clementina’s attitude toward Henry broke my heart; I did not like how she treated her son. However, there were a couple of brief moments that brought her a bit of redemption, and surprised me. I was suspicious of Albert from the beginning. He seemed nice on the surface, and I felt bad for him because of the situation he was in. However, as the story progressed, I did not like him at all. There were a few bright spots: Margaret, Mrs. Baker, Frau V., and Mrs. Bernstein come to mind as women that gave hope to Lilli when she was in her darkest moments. I did like that about this book-I liked how there were a few women that stood out as loving, caring, and helping when hope seemed lost. There is still good in the world. This book shows a different side of unwed mothers, poverty and begging, and assumptions. It teaches that we may think we know the whole story and be able to righteously judge, but we don’t know. We do not know why the beggar on the corner ended up there. We don’t know how that young woman came to be pregnant and alone. And our job is not to judge, but to help and care for those in need. If we don’t do it, who will? Overall, I enjoyed this book. It is definitely not the happiest book out there, but it does make you ponder, and I came away much more grateful for all that I’ve been blessed with, and with a greater desire to look outside my own life and struggles to find those who really need care and love.
Having said that, I would rate this book 3 stars instead of 4 stars because of a few scenes that were overly graphic and way too detailed for my tastes. I thought they were inappropriate and disgusting. There’s an “intimacy” scene at the beginning that was a bit too detailed, but at least it was sweet. There are a couple of later “intimacy” scenes that were way too graphic and detailed; I thought the one, especially, was disgusting and inappropriate. I guess it kind of showed you the true character, but that could have been shown in much better and less appalling ways. There really wasn’t a whole lot of language or violence, but there were some difficult to read pages describing the conditions of an orphanage. If scenes like those described above do not bother you then you will enjoy the story and learning about the strength of human will. However, if you are not a fan of detailed “intimacy” scenes, then I cannot recommend this book. 
Rating: R (This book is NOT appropriate for younger readers. There really isn’t any profanity or violence, but there are some very graphic and detailed “intimacy” scenes that I found disturbing and disgusting.)
Recommendation: Adult
Disclosure: I did receive a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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