Jane’s Boekentips

ONCE UPON A RIVER by Bonnie Jo Campbell

You know when you hear it, when you see it, and when you read it. You know when you have something extraordinary in your life. A piece of music that can still move you after all these years. An artist that unsettles you…and yet gives you peace. A storyteller that takes you on a journey that you never thought you would be on, but you are so glad you took the leap. Art is supposed to rattle you, it is supposed to stretch the lines we have drawn in the sand, it is sometimes going to make you smile and sometimes trigger emotions and even anger you. This book, Once upon a river by Bonnie Jo Campbell, does all of these things.

Margo Crane is a 16 year old living along a river in Michigan. After her father is killed, she knows that she has to escape her home and extended family, so she leaves on the boat given to her by her grandfather. Margo is not your typical teenager. She is a sharp shooter, like her hero Annie Oakely. She can not only kill a deer, but clean it and make a stew out of it. For Margo, guns are like a third arm for her. She completely lives off the land along the river, as she knows how to kill and cook any animal, knows vegetation, and doesn’t hesitate to steal from other’s gardens.

She is on the river in search of her mother who mysteriously left the family. But what she encounters on her trip are many men. Before she left her home, she was assaulted by her uncle and Margo has a confused view of herself with men. Must she be sexual with practically every man she meets? In many ways, she is like the animals she hunts.

She finally finds love and a safe place, even though it is not a perfect solution. It is with a dying old man who is honest and caring. Margo finds the home she has wanted and needed. She lives in a violent world, but by the end of this story, we know she has found some kind of peace. And she now knows herself better than ever before.

Campbell has written a story that will stir discussion and that is a good thing. I just know that I could not get the river and Margo out of my mind. I read a book that deserves much praise and I am happy to tell you: get this book into your hands and just read it.

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