Lilli de Jong

In Janet Benton's debut, a woman's love for her baby battles a seemingly unstoppable foe: the prejudice and moral outrage against an unwed mother in the United States in the 1880s.

After the death of her mother, 22-year-old Lilli de Jong's father, Samuel, immediately marries his first cousin Patience, a woman of easy virtue who sees his daughter as an obstacle. His disregard for the Society of Friends' mandatory mourning period leads to the family's expulsion from their church and the loss of Lilli's teaching position. Johan, the man Lilli loves and her last source of comfort, proposes before leaving to seek his fortune in Pittsburgh. Trusting in his sincerity, Lilli surrenders to passion, and so her "time of shame began in glory." Her joy turns sour as she swells with pregnancy and hears no word from Johan.

Fleeing Patience's wrath, Lilli gives birth at the Philadelphia Haven for Women and Infants, where young women give up their newborns for adoption and return to their lives after much sermonizing on their sins, "as if passion alone explained our predicaments." Against all advice, she rebels and keeps her daughter, Charlotte. However, their prospects are perilously bleak. Even when Lilli takes work as a wet nurse for a wealthy socialite, the family worries their baby will absorb loose morals through her milk. As the world continues to slam doors in her face, Lilli fights desperately to protect and keep the person she loves most.

A gorgeous paean to the courage and ferocity of a mother's love, Lilli de Jong pays homage to the solace of writing through troubling times and will haunt readers long after its denouement. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

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