Randi Reisfeld's Reviews > Once Upon a River

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell
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's review
Nov 29, 2011

really liked it
Read in October, 2011

Although this kind of book hasn't exactly been in my literary-wheelhouse for a while (impatient reader I've become), I really loved it; it gripped and held me from page 1. This is not YA even though its core character is 13-year-old Margo who lives in an isolated outpost of Michigan, on the banks of a small river. She's a "river rat," who lives, breathes and eventually, takes a coming-of-age journey on it in a ricketly boat with just her rifle (yep) and meager supplies. Abandoned by family, backstabbed by her one would-be friend, assaulted by her uncle, Margo, learns to use others (even as they're using her) during her solo journey. She's a true, and memorable, survivor. And yeah, in the end she forges a new kind of family, but none of this feels predicable. A strong recommendation.

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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Vicki Jaeger I tried reading this one, and had to put it down by p.46. It was just too dark & horrible for me. (Granted, I was trying to read it poolside, looking for a light beach read.) I think right now I need "bright & shiny" books!

Randi Reisfeld Funny, I ddin't find this dark and horrible at all -- are we talking about the same book? Heroine was Margo, river-rat, etc....mom leaves...don't want to ruin rest of it lest u go back to it. Was there something in the beginning I missed?

Vicki Jaeger Her rape by her uncle was disturbingly non-violent, and she notes calmly in her head that she didn't say no or have a big objection to it out of curiousity. Then her uncle claiming he did nothing & she was to blame, & the ostracization by that side of the family (leaving her with only her father), just seemed so dark. Totally got the slaughter of animals during hunting season as she worked through everything, but that got pretty horrid as well. (And I'm from a hunting family.) I couldn't bear to walk through the retribution scene with the uncle & father, as it seemed like more darkness with no possible way for this young woman to find a way out of the violence & hopelessness.
So if you say it got better, and you really liked it, I believe you. I just couldn't get past the opening setup.

Randi Reisfeld I totally hear you. My take is that this is Margo-- this is who she is, how she would react in that situation, what she needs to do to figure people out, a survival skill she'll need. -- a character so well painted, u don't soon forget.

My advice? Let it go -- there are too many books to love out there, and no way enuf time to read 'em all. Don't force yourself through it.

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