Once upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Margo Crane is a sure shot with a rifle and a teenager of few words who lives her own internal life on a river in rural Michigan.  After her mother leaves the family and her father dies in a tragic accident,  Margo leaves home on a boat inherited from her grandfather.  Intent on finding her mother, she goes away burdened with revenge against certain of her relatives that live across the river – an uncle she trusted who raped her, and the cousin who shot her father in a rage.

Margo meets and lives with a number of men while on the river who vary from life teachers to lechers, and some are abusive.  She eventually makes friends with two elderly gentlemen, one of them on his last gasp (almost literally).  With these two unlikely friendships, Margo learns to navigate the troubles of her own young life and come to peace with its rough currents.

Margo is shy almost to a fault, but I wouldn’t call her antisocial.  She is a loner, but still seeks out companionship throughout the book, although she does make some seriously bad choices.  But among the cast of losers, cads, heroes and ordinary Joes she finds herself with, Margo manages to learn something from nearly everyone she encounters.  I liked her character in a big way; Margo reminded me greatly of Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone or Mary Call Luther in Where The Lilies Bloom – two other teenage heroines who make their share of mistakes but still exhibit steely fortitudes.  Once Upon A River was hard to put down; the book possesses its own steady rhythm and quick readability, although it does have some violent episodes.  The river will draw you in.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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