First Line: I was three months from thirteen when Mama and I stepped off the carriage in the Mississippi River town of Reliance.
Having been born with a livid birthmark covering half her face and body, thirteen-year-old Madelyn Branch has become adept at hiding in the shadows, and she doesn't expect anything to change when she and her mother arrive in the river town of Reliance, Illinois. Her mother Rebecca is answering an ad in a matrimonial newspaper, and when it comes time for her to meet and marry the man, Maddy poses as Rebecca's sister.
Maddy finds it difficult to live with these deceptions, and she yearns for her life to be different... to be filled with opportunities. When she enters the service of Miss Rose Werner, daughter of the town's founder and an ardent suffragette, Maddy's life begins to open up. However, being seen as a project can be irksome, Maddy finds-- especially when she longs for the love of Civil War veteran William Stark.
Reliance, Illinois is set in 1874, a rather tumultuous time in American history. Thousands of displaced persons wander through a country still reeling from the aftermath of a civil war. Maddy and her mother are two such displaced persons, and Maddy has watched her mother do whatever she can in order for them to survive. At a young age, she's already learned that life can be very ugly, and that if you have nothing you shouldn't expect any more from life than that.
Everyone has secrets in Reliance, Illinois, and readers can vie with Maddy to see who is better at uncovering them. Political overtones in 1874 are uncannily similar to today's, and it was interesting to watch the two suffragettes, Miss Rose and Mrs. French, fight for their causes there in town.
Madelyn Branch has a unique voice that quickly captured my attention and carried me through the book, and that voice did much to help me overlook the uneven parts. Perhaps there was just too much going on in one book. Perhaps there were just too many colorful characters. Perhaps the jump from Maddy the child to Maddy the adult in the epilogue left out too much, but this story of a young disadvantaged girl growing into her true self never quite gelled into a story I could wholeheartedly recommend. But the one thing that I will recommend is Madelyn Branch herself. As a character, Maddy may not always be admirable, but she certainly is memorable.
Reliance, Illinois by Mary Volmer
Soho Press © 2016
eBook, 368 pages
Historical Fiction, Standalone
Source: Net Galley