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Book Review on Lilli De Jong (A novel by Janet Benton)

When I first opened this book and read the following quote right before the beginning of the novel text, I was astonished by the extreme hardships that unmarried mothers endured, and I was immediately emotionally drawn to the story of young, banished Quaker and unwed mother, Lilli De Jong:
“Every other door…is closed to her who, unmarried, is about to become a mother. Deliberate, calculating, villainy, fraud, outrage, burglary, or even murder with malice afterthought, seems to excite more sympathy, more helpful pity, more efforts for the reclamation of the transgressors than are shown towards those who, if not the victims of others, are the worst but illustrations of human infirmity.”
-annual report of the State Hospital for Women and Infants, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1880.

The format of the book is written as if you were reading Lilli’s diary and takes place in the late 19th century.  It was very raw, personal, emotional, and vividly informative.  The writer created a true visual of what was going on to the eye as well as what inner turmoil Lilli felt in her very soul. 

The hardships Lilli endured and the dynamics of the interactions of the characters with Lilli were astounding.  The relationships were multifaceted and complex in that they were described in such detail that the reader comes to know each character on a very personal level throughout the story.  Each person in the story will either pull at your heartstrings or they will make you feel a multitude of emotions –varying from anger and dislike to pure admiration and adoration.  

The conditions and circumstances Lilli is exposed to will leave you feeling protective of her and her child and appalled by the societal prejudice of that time toward unwed mothers.  The events throughout the book take you on an emotional roller-coaster ride with plenty of ups, downs, twists, and turns.  The fortitude of Lilli’s character and the love of her child as she documents her experiences and feelings are both inspiring and boundless. 

While reading, I thought along the lines of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (also a favorite of mine) with a twist.  Benton’s writing style could even be compared to Bronte’s in her capture of dialogue and description of events, surroundings, and emotional interactions. 

I should caution you though, that you will not want to put the book down as it does lead to binge reading and some late nights.  It is a book that will leave you feeling changed afterwards and will both take away and replenish faith in the human character in general. 
I highly recommend this book. 

***Added commentary outside of book review***
In addition to recommending this book, I would also like to say on a more personal note, that I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Janet Benton at a literary event on her book, Lilli De Jong.  She is a very kind, informative, educated, and all around pleasant person.  I had a wonderful time with the Q&A and discussion of her novel.  I was as impressed with her credentials and talent as I was with her personal character.  If you get a chance to go to one of her literary events, I highly recommend you go. 

Additional resources:

You can find Janet Benton on  Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as:


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