Book Review: “Reliance, Illinois” by Mary Volmer

Book reviewed by Bev Scott

Reliance Illinois

I purchased this book Reliance Illinois at a reading by the author Mary Volmer.

Reliance, Illinois tells a fascinating story, set in 1874 on the Mississippi River. The protagonist, a teenage girl of thirteen, Madelyn Branch (Maddy) pretends to be the younger sister of her beautiful mother, Rebecca. The story unfolds when they arrive in Reliance for her mother’s marriage to a never-met “business man” found in the “Matrimonial Times.” This man, Mr. Dryfus, take exception to Maddy’s presence. He is unhappily surprised because he did not expect his new wife to come with a spirited teenager.

Maddy must confront unique challenges as well as the usual teenage longing to be pretty and loved. Unwanted in her mother’s new relationship, Maddy takes advantage of an opportunity in another household. She becomes both servant and student to the eccentric, wealthy Miss Rose. As she searches for her own path, Maddy involves herself in social justice issues, radical early “feminist” schemes and the realities of romantic love.


Mary Volmer has developed a fine character in Maddy. She draws both Maddy and the secondary characters with complexity and skill. As the plot unfolds the author reveals yet another secret. The book keeps the reader fully engaged until the surprising end of the story. With beautiful writing, vivid description and complexity of character and plot, I highly recommend the book Reliance, Illinois.