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 a life of poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.
Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a charity for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overpowers her heart. Mothers in her position have no sensible alternative to giving up their children, but Lilli can’t bear such an outcome. Determined to chart a path toward an independent life, Lilli 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 perilous streets of a burgeoning American city. Lilli de Jong is at once a historical saga, an intimate romance, and a lasting testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”
Written as the diary of a young Quaker, I found the narrative to be naive and touching. Betrayed and let down by everyone over and over again, Lilli has only her diaries to confide in. Because of her sheltered upbringing, she’s always relied on others and trusted their decisions regarding her life. Falling pregnant and unable to confide in her family, Lilli is forced to leave home when her stepmother discovers her secret and threatens to tell her father. With very few available options, she once again accepts the help and decisions others make for her. However, as her time in ‘exile’ passes, she starts to question whether she should have more of a say in her own future and starts to make plans for herself.
I enjoyed the evolution of Lilli’s thoughts in her diary and how her actions were affected. She worked so hard to find a way to be able to keep her child and to provide for both of them despite her unmarried status. Her life went down some very interesting, and horrifying, paths all in an attempt to scrape together an honest living.
Unfortunately, the ending stops me from giving anything more than three stars here.
It was too coincidental and made the entire book almost pointless. Lilli’s father withheld the letters from her lover who had been trying to get in contact with her almost as soon as he left. If she had just followed him, or if he had returned to find out why she wasn’t responding, none of this would have happened. It also meant that in the end she’s just going to get married and that’s it. She’s not ‘choosing a life of poverty and shame’ or finding a way to overcome her situation. I understand this is set in the 1800s and the narrative is suggesting that without marriage it’s quite likely Lilli and her daughter would have perished on the street or been imprisoned but this was not the ending or the outcome I was hoping for.