Lilli De Jong by Janet Benton– 352 pages
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.
My Review: 4 stars
Lilli De Jong shares her story of becoming a burden to her family and a disgrace to the community due to her status of unwed motherhood. Being a Quaker in the late 1800s didn’t help her situation either. With so many odds against her, this story shows the resilience of mothers as they fight with every breath they have to protect their children. Thankfully, Quakers believe in the education of women which was one guiding light for this character. Although it couldn’t stop her for being put out on the streets living in squalor.
This book had romance, heartbreak, love, desperation, suspense, friendship, mystery and showed the kindness of strangers. Through Lilli’s eyes, we saw her internal conflict of lying to bestow safety for her and her baby and her Quaker ways. It’s a coming of age story and one of finding the equilibrium of listening to your heart versus your head.
The storyline was phenomenal but it was a welcome read for two other reasons. The first was reading a historical fiction novel with no mention of war. The second was reading a first person narrative from one person and in one timeline. It was so refreshing to stay in one place. Additionally, the author’s use of language from this time period seemed completely on point. She had the double work of also replicating the language of the Quakers, as Friends do not say me, you or I, only thee or thou.
This is a great debut novel and a fascinating look into the lives of women: poor or rich, educated or not, common or socialites, kind or callous. Men were dominant and it’s always rewarding to see how far the fairer sex has rocketed.
Quotes I liked:
How is that shame affixes itself to the violated, and not to the violator?”
-“So little is permissible for a woman – yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”
-“The doctor cut the fleshy cord that connected us, but an invisible one has taken its place. I begin to suspect that this one can be neither cut nor broken.”
-“Anyone can be outwardly improved by fine fabrics and tailoring. Attend to thy soul, Lilli, and life’s true riches will unfold.”
-“On life’s loom, the warp and woof are so disarrayed that I can no longer weave its cloth.”
-“Perhaps our bodies are like patchwork quilts, made up of kin from decades and even centuries past.”