Blog Book Tour | “Lilli de Jong” by Janet Benton

Posted Friday, 14 September, 2018 by jorielov , , , 0 Comments

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Acquired Book By: I am a regular tour hostess for blog tours via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours whereupon I am thankful to have been able to host such a diverse breadth of stories, authors and wonderful guest features since I became a hostess! I received a complimentary copy of “Lilli de Jong” direct from the author Janet Benton in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive compensation for my opinions or thoughts shared herein.

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Why I was inspired to read Lilli de Jong:

The premise is INCREDIBLY strong, fierce and very pro-positive for today’s cultural climate where women are *still!* fighting for their rights – I wish the stigmas were gone for unwed Mums! I love the fact it’s told through the character’s journal! Eek.

I was wicked thankful I could join this blog tour – not only to read and review the novel but to converse with the author about the subject(s) explored therein.

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Blog Book Tour | “Lilli de Jong” by Janet BentonLilli de Jong
by Janet Benton
Source: Author via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Philadelphia, 1883. Twenty-three-year-old Lilli de Jong is pregnant and alone—abandoned by her lover and banished from her Quaker home. She gives birth at a charity for wronged women, planning to give up the baby. But the power of their bond sets her on a completely unexpected path. Unwed mothers in 1883 face staggering prejudice, yet Lilli refuses to give up her baby girl. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep the two of them alive.

Lilli confides this story to her diary as it unfolds, taking readers from a charity for unwed mothers to a wealthy family’s home and onto the streets of a burgeoning American city. Her story offers a rare and harrowing view into a time when a mother’s milk is crucial for infant survival. Written with startling intimacy and compassion, this accomplished novel is both a rich historical depiction and a testament to the saving force of a woman’s love.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

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ISBN: 9780525563327

Genres: Current Events, Feminist Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction, Motherhood | Parenthood, Realistic Fiction, Social Science, Women's Fiction, Women's Studies


Published by Anchor Books

on 10th July, 2018

Format: Trade Paperback

Pages: 352

 Published By: Anchor Books (@VintageAnchor)

an imprint of Penguin Random House (@penguinrandom)

Converse via: #LilliDeJong, #WomensRights, #mumhood & #HistFic or #HistNov
Available Formats: Paperback and Ebook

About Janet Benton

Janet Benton

JANET BENTON’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has cowritten and edited historical documentaries for television.
She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

For decades she has taught writing at universities and privately and has helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

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My Review of lilli de jung:

The very first thing you notice as you begin reading the journals of Lilli de Jung – is how authentically honest they were written. You feel as if you’ve left the century of your current residence and have retreated backwards into the historical past where the plight of unwed mothers did not know the compassion of organisations which reached out to these mothers in their time of need (of which the film Gimme Shelter (2013) is helping to promote). Lilli has a clear mind about how she wants to impart her journey to you – she wants you to sympathise with her plight by fully understanding what is happening to the girls’ like her who are subjected to being ‘put away’ in a place where they can carry their children to term, delivery them and eventually adopt them out.

You can tell they are not treated with the same kind of compassion as women are today who find the resources where compassion plays a key rule in helping an unwed mother find empathy and understanding whilst she’s pregnant. This is a place where you haven’t a voice to speak freely nor can you have opinions which are respected. The rules are beyond strict and compliance is the only option you have – irregardless of your age, experiences or even the circumstances which led to your pregnancy as outlined by Lilli.

It is rather unimaginable the pain of loss being magnified and tripled for young Lilli, whose Mum was not a month gone to grave when her father chose to take another woman to bed. This imperious moment is what triggered the strongest reaction in Lilli herself – not just the recoiled trust she once had in her father (or in the idea of her family’s dynamic therein) but of the harder lesson she had observed in human nature and the needs of adults. Adding to the discomfort was the knowledge the woman who had wooed her father away from his grief was a relative without home or purpose – a wanderer who had laid claim on a man who was not yet ready to be in the right mind to make such choices which would impact his life and his children.

The hollow ache you feel for Lilli at the time of her mother’s tragic passing stays with you as you learn more about how she ended up in a home for unwed mothers. She, herself, a girl of two and twenty still too young to have lost her mother in such an horrific manner – the kind of things you observe at point of death which cannot ever be stricken from memory and which enrage the heart with anguished guilt, anger and the desolation which comes from observing a life cut too short from this Earth.

Hitching her hopes onto Johan who offered her a way forward and away from the shame of her father’s choices – as they effected her as a Quaker school-teacher – apparent in how the sins of the father forced the removal of the daughter from a title of influence on the community’s children. It does not seem fair to punish Lilli for choices her father made but such were the rules of this Quaker community – whether or not those stand today, I am uncertain. She was a sparrow – disconcerted with her own future and newly rebellious to believe if she were to run off with Johan her destiny might be a salve to the wounds of her sorrow rather than a repetitive ache of lost hours and unfulfilled dreams. In essence, she wanted to escape her present if only to hope for a better tomorrow – something she could not do whilst stuck inside her childhood home.

Just as suddenly as we disappeared back through the corridors of time to unearth Lilli’s story of conception, we are once again re-tracing her footsteps at the shelter she found residence to carry her child til full term. It isn’t the best of places for her to be kept nor the worst – as the worst during that era would have been the same as today: the streets or far worse than that. Still, as Lilli contemplated the ways in which she was led into this current predicament – of how she was wooed by a man whose love was not as sincere as her own, you commended her for being in strength of mind and character to make it this far without falling into a worsened state of darkness.

It wasn’t enough to give birth at this facility – the young Mums who had milk to spare were requested to be wet nurses to those who were without mothers – left behind or given to this shelter for reasons never known. This circumstance happened to one of Lilli’s friends (Nancy) at a point in the young mother’s recovery where she was not just fatigued from birth but she had not yet reinstated her own wellness to where asking her to give more milk than she could yield wouldn’t have an adverse effect on her being. You almost questioned why she was asked outside of the obvious being the young babe needed her help.

Lilli is growing in admiration and profound affection for Charlotte (the name she’s chosen for her daughter) – the rites of passage between her girlhood and womanhood were not entirely of her choosing – but the results of her confinement and pregnancy yielded a miracle she never expected! To her, motherhood did not quite come as easy as it might have seemed but she was keenly observant, readily aware and up to the challenges which befell her each step of the way. Her journals became her steadying balm against the storms of her thoughts, the curious obstacles of pregnancy and the after effects of birth itself.

In writing down her life, the pauses in breath as a new Mum and the anxieties of an expecting parent – you drew closer to her experience. You could see how she was processing this experience and what weighed on her heart the most was the uncertainties of her child’s future. Of the kind of family she would be placed inside, the opportunities Charlotte would have and what her daughter might think on her behalf when she was old enough to realise she was adopted. A lot of worry crested Lilli’s heart – inasmuch as a fierce resilience to honour her daughter and do right by her – as she only wanted what was best.

Benton doesn’t hold back from giving honest insight into what happens during pregnancy and during birth – each step of the way, the girls’ in the story are sharing raw moments of their memories, of what they felt and what they saw; how terrifying it was not to understand everything until they experienced it first-hand and the emptiness they were expected to carry-on with after delivering the children. In many ways, this echoed what I observed in Philomena about how the birth mothers feelings and thoughts were dismissed for the greater good of placing the children through adoption.

The key difference between Philomena and Lilli de Jong is the fact when Lilli voiced her unease about her choice in adopting Charlotte out to a family, the matron in charge of the shelter listened to her and took her into a confidence most of the girls’ were never privy too. By doing so, it altered Lilli’s path and the life Charlotte might have had with a family. It also spoke to the horrors of adopting the children out to begin with as the families who were accepting them reminded me of scenes from Anne of Green Gables more readily viewed in the new Netflix adaptation Anne with an E where you see them expecting to have cheap labour in exchange for room and board; but never did you see them offering to accept the child(ren) as their own or to treat them as kin. Technically, this is widely explored throughout Literature, tv and film, including the adaptations within the Love Comes Softly saga.

Why you feel you want to champion Lilli’s cause is because it bespeaks to the nurturer in all of us – of wanting to find a silver lining out of tragedy and of having the brave courage of strength to not just believe in oneself and one’s hope for the future but to curate it into a manifested state. To find the will to seek out the impossible paths which would lead to self-sufficiency and self-independence to where you could not just in theory but in reality provide for your child.

Benton draws us close into this world – relating the hardships and the obstacles but always returning back to centre to focus on Lilli and Charlotte. She wants you to feel as if you can step straight into Lilli’s shoes, enter her soul through her thoughts and be mindful of what was at stake whilst she chose the harder route to take which was right for her and Charlotte. It was a choice strengthened by her own will and the ardent belief she was erring on the side of her faith – even if she did not feel as connected to her Quaker roots, she could not disown them. Her faith is what was her stronghold and her guiding Light – seeking the truth even if the passages she had to travel were darker than she wished them, the Light she knew to be near to her is what bolstered her spirits.

The darkness which overtook Lilli and Charlotte during those fervent early days and months after her entrance into Lilli’s life were difficult to read because it was the desperate attempts of a mother to care for her child – even if a lot of those choices were going against her own beliefs and her own morality. You honestly do not know how she can pull through this vortex of intense hopelessness and homelessness. How can she find the resolve to rise above these situations and find a better path for her and Charlotte? This is the journey Benton has placed us on and it is through reading Lilli’s journals we bare witness to the fortitude she found in order to survive.

on the writing style of janet benton:

For a debut novelist, what struck me incredible is how well-attune the narrative reads – how incantationacious the words play through your mind and how readily visceral Benton has curated the text. You do not wont for more – she has fused the depth of centre straight into the flow of her story’s heart – you feel the words as they leave an impressionable depiction in your mind and thus, carrying you through into each new section of Lilli’s journal.

The purity of her ability to cast us directly into the sphere of Lilli’s mind – sensing her thoughts, hearing her emotions and finding a bridge into her actions through what led before them to motivate her into committing them – you see the scope of how Lilli found herself betwixt and between the ending results of needing to seek out shelter and help to get her through the long months of her forthcoming pregnancy which initially was not even a thought on the wind. She could only see a fraction of the time moving in front of her – she did not put thought on the complications of where her life could go but rather, she wanted to sort out the issues at hand and take a jump towards finding herself renewed by a change of scenery. An innocent gesture of hopefulness and in a way, perhaps it shielded her from contemplating the harsher realities of her life too soon before they arrived.

The letter she wrote on behalf of Lilli – wanting to impart knowledge of herself to her yet unbourne child was one of the tender-most missives I’ve seen included in a Historical novel of this kind. It speaks to the humbled faith of Lilli but also, the maternal instincts, I am not certain she realised she was embodying at that point in her pregnancy. She was entering her final trimester and would soon have to depart thereafter, knowing her babe was meant to be adopted out – yet, there was a part of her heart which could not simply ‘let go’ without leaving a part of herself behind. If only to answer a question of unspoken answers about why she chose to take this course of action over another – you could see the truth etching out of her words but also, of the complicated ways in which ‘choice’ of circumstances is never a fine line of being ‘right nor wrong’.

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In keeping with my tradition of finding a musical background to the stories I am reading – I played the channel ‘Ambient Chill’ via #Spotify whilst reading ‘Lilli de Jong’ as I wanted to be able to pull myself into the journalled remains of Lilli’s life and to be fused into the narrative in such a way as to not think of anything other than her trials as a Mum. I knew this was going to be an emotionally charged novel which is also why I wanted to listen to soundscapes which were both invitingly calm and held within them a hopefulness even Lilli would have championed had she lived and known the worlds within Ambient soundscapes!

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This blog tour is courtesy of:

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours - HFVBT

Follow the Virtual Road Map by visiting the blog tour route:

I am looking forward to sharing my interview with this author & I wanted to apologise to those on the blog tour who might have wondered about my review & Guest Feature. On my end, my delays this week were due to both health issues & lightning storms making my connectivity near impossible. I am thankful I could finally share my thoughts on behalf of the novel! Stay tuned for our convo!

Lilli de Jong blog tour via HFVBTs
 I look forward to reading your thoughts & commentary!
Especially if you read the book or were thinking you might be inclined to read it. I appreciate hearing different points of view especially amongst readers who gravitate towards the same stories to read. Bookish conversations are always welcome!

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{SOURCES: Book cover for “Lilli de Jong”, book synopsis, author biography, author photograph of Janet Benton, the tour host badge and HFVBTs badge were all provided by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Book Review Banner using Unsplash.com (Creative Commons Zero) Photography by Frank McKenna, 2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge banner and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2018.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Friday, 14 September, 2018 by jorielov in 19th Century, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Child out of Wedlock, Coming-Of Age, Fathers and Daughters, Flashbacks & Recollective Memories, Grief & Anguish of Guilt, Historical Fiction, Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, Literary Fiction, Mental Health, Quakers, Single Mothers, Unexpected Pregnancy, Women's Fiction, Women's Health, Women's Right to Choose (Health Care Rights), Women's Rights




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