In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, [Benton] seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist’s struggles. . . . [What a] monumental accomplishment the novel achieves. Benton holds a mirror up to the past and in doing so, illustrates how far we have come as well as how far we have yet to go. An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.
— KIRKUS REVIEWS, March 2017
Benton’s heartrending debut novel gives voice to the plight of unwed mothers in late-19th-century Philadelphia. . . . 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.
★ Starred review
Telling Lilli’s story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother’s love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks.
— Susan Santa, LIBRARY JOURNAL, April 2017
You would be hard-pressed to find a more intimate—even revolutionary—depiction of the emotional and sensory experiences of motherhood .... An unwed Quaker mother living in 1883 Philadelphia, (Lilli) enters not only readers’ hearts, but also their minds, through her distinctive, questioning voice.
— Patricia Sullivan, UMASS MAGAZINE, August 2017
A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history. A heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.
— Jamie Ford, bestselling author of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET
Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth and Margaret Sanger all made their mark as early American feminists, whether fighting for voting rights, birth control, an end to slavery or better opportunities in general for women.

Had she been real, Lilli de Jong would have been a kindred spirit. But even as a fictional character, Lilli has some feminist bonafides. . . . Lilli tells a story that’s both an indictment of the prejudices and limitations women faced in the 19th century, as well as a saga of an unwed mother’s determination . . .
A stunning ode to motherhood. LILLI DE JONG reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time.
— Sarah McCoy, bestselling author of THE MAPMAKER'S CHILDREN
While Lilli’s struggles may initially raise sentiments about how far we’ve come, in the end the reader will likely think, ‘Or perhaps not.’ The challenges she faces to keep custody of her daughter, earn a living and find safe childcare descend into the hellish, yet they have clear parallels for the modern parent, single or attached. 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, SHELF AWARENESS, April 2017
In a short space of time, a young Quaker woman poised to begin a new life was reduced to begging on the streets to keep herself and her infant daughter alive. The story of how Lilli de Jong falls so completely after unexpectedly becoming pregnant offers a harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . She is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a mother’s love.
— Bridget Thoresen, BOOKLIST, April 2017
Janet Benton’s remarkable novel LILLI DE JONG is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli’s sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold, though reader, be warned—Lilli’s story may break your heart.
— Valerie Martin, author of 11 novels including MARY REILLY and PROPERTY, winner of the Orange Prize
Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, LILLI DE JONG is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era—and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read.
— Christina Baker Kline, #1 NYT bestselling author of ORPHAN TRAIN and A PIECE OF THE WORLD
Lilli de Jong is the last woman you’d ever picture ending up in her situation—because we’ve been taught to think that quiet Quaker women cannot possibly succumb to a single moment of Godly passion. Yet that is what has happened, and in the diary notebooks that Janet Benton has composed, we find Lilli’s descent in status and life matching her mind’s ascent. A white woman in the late 1800s, she finds that there is no safety net for her to fall into; no real possibilities for redemption; and it is sheer luck and random acts of dubious kindness that often lead her to her and her baby’s next meal. As Lilli’s ideas of the world expand, a thread of conscious intersectional feminism emerges as a kind of thought process that can be learned. A brilliantly quiet novel with a spine of steel.
— Ilana Masad, "RIF’s Favorite Reads of May 2017," Read It Forward
A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader.
— Martha Anne Toll, THE MILLIONS, March 2017
Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and ultimately the human bond. Stunning!
— Pam Jenoff, bestselling author of THE KOMMANDANT'S GIRL and THE ORPHAN'S TALE
Benton’s gorgeously written debut, set against the teeming backdrop of 1883 Philadelphia, follows a young Quaker unwed mother, buckling under the stigma and shame of her condition. . . . Lilli’s fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby are both devastatingly relevant—and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love.
— Caroline Leavitt, bestselling author of CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD
I LOVED this novel. LILLI DE JONG is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life. Meticulously researched, the details of the day-to-day world are startling and vivid. It’s not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it’s also important. As a single young woman desperate to hold onto her baby, Lilli’s life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today. How is it that we know so little of our personal history? This will be an excellent novel for book clubs because there is so much in it that is relevant, so much to learn and discuss.
— Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling JOSEPHINE B. TRILOGY
Lilli’s dogged determination is fueled by the unconditional love and trust of her baby . . . Benton has a lovely, engaging writing style, and the plot had some unexpected turns. She has given us a glimpse into the past that continues to resonate in the present day. Lilli de Jong is a virtual maternal hug of a novel that acknowledges the persistence of mothers everywhere.
— Helene Cohen Bludman, Books Is Wonderful
I had a wonderful time reading Janet’s book. It returned me to Philadelphia institutions that have fueled my own imagination and writing—that home for unwed mothers, the Blockley Almshouse, the clanging Baldwin Locomotives neighborhood, the Historic Rittenhousetown, the streets of Germantown, the marketplaces. Janet’s research shows on every page, as does her deep understanding of motherhood and choice making, trust and its opposite. Lilli is a character you will root for and despair with.
— Beth Kephart, award-winning author of 21 works of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction, including LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair and FLOW: Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River
Benton has a degree in Religious Studies, and it shows. For a longtime bible student like myself, Benton’s questions and analysis show a respect for Christians often lacking in current literature, while questioning the areas that can be problematic.


Amazon, Best Books of the Month in Literature/Fiction 

Ingram Title Alert, Reading Group Suggestion for May

Pure Wow Book Club, Books to Read in May 

Eleven BOOK BUB lists, including these: 

  18 New Historical Fiction Novels to Read with Your Book Club

        20 of the Biggest Historical Fiction Books Coming Out This Summer

The Most-Anticipated Books of Summer 2017

These Are the Most Popular Books of 2017 (So Far): 24 Breakthrough Books of 2017

19 Highly Anticipated Breakthrough Novels of 2017

The Best New Fiction for Women, by Women

21 of the Biggest Historical Fiction Releases Coming in 2017

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Click above if you'd like to read Goodreads reviews on the Goodreads site. To ask Janet a question about Lilli de Jong on Goodreads, visit her page, scroll down the author profile to "Ask the Author," and ask.

Click above if you'd like to read Goodreads reviews on the Goodreads site. To ask Janet a question about Lilli de Jong on Goodreadsvisit her page, scroll down the author profile to "Ask the Author," and ask.

The administration building of Blockley Almshouse, West Philadelphia. Lilli makes many harrowing trips to the enormous almhouse compound, which closed in 1977. The University of Pennsylvania now occupies much of the property.

The administration building of Blockley Almshouse, West Philadelphia. Lilli makes many harrowing trips to the enormous almhouse compound, which closed in 1977. The University of Pennsylvania now occupies much of the property.

Lilli is as spirited and determined as Jane Eyre, as sensible as Elinor Dashwood, and as downtrodden as Little Nell. Yet on the subjects of reproductive rights, affordable day care, and the cost of motherhood for women, the book speaks directly to readers today. . . . Benton, who has worked on documentary films and is an exhaustive researcher, provides a glorious, if dark, portrait of 19th-century Philadelphia. . . . These details vividly invoke the past, while Lilli’s fresh passion and insight give the book a voice that is lively and modern. Lilli de Jong is beautifully written and completely absorbing.
— Joanne Green, CLEAVER, Issue 18, June 5, 2017