“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
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.”
In the forthright prose of its eponymous heroine, Benton's heartrending debut novel gives voice to the plight of unwed mothers in late-19th-century Philadelphia. Instead of starting a new life with her fianc , 22-year-old Lilli de Jong discovers that she is pregnant. Once sheltered by her Quaker community, Lilli can no longer associate with respectable society, including her own family. The Philadelphia Haven for Women and Infants promises Lilli a reputable adoption and a fresh start, albeit one built on lies. But nothing prepares Lilli for motherhood and the cruel world beyond. She dares to keep her daughter, but must choose, again and again, between her principles and necessities. Told through Lilli's journals, the book offers a distressing window into the intersections of motherhood, independence, faith, and class at a time when even affluent white women had little control over their lives. 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." Most poignant are the heartfelt depictions of the dualities of motherhood, "a land where pain and joy are ever mingled and where every move has consequence." Lilli's inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.