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 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,

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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.”

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  • Nan A. Talese
  • Hardcover
  • May 2017
  • 352 Pages
  • 9780385541459

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$26.95

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About Janet Benton

Janet Benton is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Philadelphia InquirerGlimmer Train, and elsewhere. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For over twenty years, she has run an editorial business and a writing workshop in Philadelphia, where she lives with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Author Website

Praise

“The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it’s a testament to Benton’s skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist’s struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.”Kirkus Reviews

“A heartrending debut . . . Benton’s exacting research fuels Lilli’s passionate, authentic voice that is ‘as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance’ . . . Lilli’s inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.”Publishers Weekly

“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

Discussion Questions

1. How do you think the death of Lilli’s mother affected the course of Lilli’s life?

2. What role do you think Lilli’s religious background played in her willingness to suffer for her choices?

3. Does her faith remain the same or change in the course of the story?

4. How did the diary form of the novel affect your experience of the story?

5. Are there challenges Lilli faced that women still struggle with today?

6. How do you think Lilli’s story might be different if it was set today? In what ways might it be the same?

7. What messages about motherhood will you take away from the novel?

8. Are there choices Lilli made that you might have made differently, in her circumstances?

9. Johan tells Lilli he won’t pry into her secrets. But her mother warns that secrets will corrode bonds. Whose approach do you agree with?

10. What affected you most when you were reading Lilli’s story, and what do you think will remain with you?