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Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
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Once Upon a River

by Bonnie Jo Campbell

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Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
There were times where I got infuriated with the main character....but she was so likeable that you had to keep reading. Good characters....good story. ( )
  BookLove80 | Feb 21, 2019 |
Seven years I lived in a small town in a Michigan county described as being a downstate 'Up North,' an area of wide open spaces and farmland punctuated by woods and wild. We knew a self-sufficient family who supplied all their food by hunting, fishing, and gardening. I heard stories about family feuds and wild lives.

The local library book club was led by a retired professor from Kalamazoo. The group wanted to read Bonnie Jo Campbell's book Once Upon a River because of the setting--the rural area around the Stark and Kalamazoo Rivers just a half hour away. The book was so popular that the library couldn't get enough copies of the book for the group and we read another book.

As I finally read Once Upon a River, sexual assault and abuse have been in the national conversation. Women everywhere are sharing their stories.

Meanwhile, reports warn against eating fish from Michigan's rivers tainted with PFAS, including the Kalamazoo River. The rivers in the book, which is set around 1980, are polluted by factories.

I had picked up another timely book. Or perhaps a timeless book.

Once Upon a River is about Margo whose hero is Annie Oakley. She is a deadly shot, can prepare game, fish and travel the river, avoiding the water contaminated by factories. Margo is a beautiful young girl who does not understand life or herself, and who is preyed upon by men. She confuses sex with safety and protection.

At fifteen Margo does not yet understand that she has been raped. The rape is witnessed, leading to a series of catastrophic events. With no mother or father, and unable to trust her remaining family, Margo takes her grandfather's boat to live alone on the river. She finds temporary shelter with a series of men. With each relationship, she grows in her understanding of what is right and wrong, who she is, and what she wants for herself.

Campbell's writing is exquisite, vividly descriptive. Margo is an unforgettable character, strong yet vulnerable, negligent of her outer beauty that lures men, capable of skinning a muskrat or shooting a man. With its beautiful writing, unique character and setting, and timeless themes, I would heartily recommend it for book clubs. ( )
  nancyadair | Oct 4, 2018 |
I listened to this strange but compelling story while sewing. I did not want to stop the story so I got a lot of projects done! This is my first book by Bonnie Jo and I feel she did a wonderful job depicting a culture that many of us really do not cross paths with. I'm sure there are those who think this was a bit far fetched but it is reality for many families. I enjoyed listening to the narrator and found myself feeling deeply the emotions of each of the characters. If you are looking for a good story that includes fractured family relationships, hard living, nature along a river and what its like to live among the wildlife there, a girl forced to learn to make it all alone, not trusting yet needing to trust complete strangers for help, then you should give Once Upon a River a try. I recently listened to a story called Wolf Road by Beth Lewis and I kept thinking how similar these girls were. I have had Q Road on my to read list for a couple of years but kept putting it off but now that I have read (listened to)one of Bonnie Jo Campbell's other books I am looking forward to starting that book. ( )
  theeccentriclady | Apr 2, 2017 |
Audiobook narrated by Susan Bennett

From the book jacket - After the violent death of her father, sixteen-year-old Margo Crane takes to the Stark River in her grandfather’s rowboat, with only a few supplies and a biography of her hero Annie Oakley, in search of her mother. But the river, Margo’s childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her.

My reactions
I hardly know what to write about this novel. Very early on I was disturbed by Margo and the adults around her – or should I say the adult who was NOT around her, specifically her mother. I wanted to hug her and keep her safe and warm. And then I wanted to shake her till her teeth rattled. I was distressed by her circumstances, her poor choices, her acting out (specifically when it came to men), her apparent lack of any sort of moral compass. And yet … she is a compelling character and I couldn’t just turn away from her.

Still, this is no Huckleberry Finn. Twain’s central character had a certain innocence about him, and Margo seems to lack innocence. This is no mere adventure, her very survival depends on her ability to make a go of it. I had to keep reminding myself about how young she is; even Campbell keeps reminded the reader of Margo’s real age. The ending is both hopeful and heart-breaking.

Susan Bennett does a fine job narrating the audio version. She has a tendency to draw an audible breath just before each sentence, and that “breathy” delivery was a distraction until I got used to it. Her pacing was good, and she has enough skill as a voice artist to differentiate the characters. ( )
1 vote BookConcierge | Aug 26, 2016 |
Really well-written - sparse, clear and concise prose. Was not prepared for the events that set Margo out onto the river- they were disturbing but powered through because the rest of the story was so interesting. Can definitely see the comparisons to Huck Finn - Margo is a modern day adventurer and was an inspiring character. ( )
1 vote Maureen_McCombs | Aug 19, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
Without creating a compelling case for her heroine choosing to ground herself, Campbell allows Margo to waver without justification over decisions that might have come easy to her earlier.
 
Bonnie Jo Campbell might well be called the Bard of Michigan — if only ''bard'' didn't sound so stuffy and ''Michigan'' didn't sound so 
 nondescript as a global positioning device to locate such a vivid and mesmerizing novel as Once Upon a River. Fact is, Campbell is a bard, 
a full-throated singer whose melodies are odes to farms and water and livestock and fishing rods and rifles, and to hardworking folks who know the value of life as well as the randomness of life's troubles.
 
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Book description
Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393079899, Hardcover)

From the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist—an odyssey of a novel about a girl's search for love and identity.
Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393079899, Hardcover)

From the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist—an odyssey of a novel about a girl's search for love and identity.

Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:05 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Margo Crane, a beautiful and uncanny markswoman, takes to the Stark River after being complicit in the death of her father and embarks on an odyssey in search of her vanished mother.

» see all 4 descriptions

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W.W. Norton

An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.

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