Book review: Heroine finds strength on St. Joseph River

Published 3:26 pm Friday, December 30, 2011

From the illegitimate relationships surrounding her birth, including incest, lust, innocent love and tragic family accidents, nothing hinders the feisty spirit of Margot Crane, the heroine of this novel. Margot’s mother Luanne, takes off along the river to find herself as she abandons her daughter. It is here when Margot begins the quest to find her in the boat her late grandfather leaves her, The River Rose. The down home folks of rural Michigan along the rivers view Margot as a symbol of toughness and bravery. In fact, one of her suitors refers to her as a wolf girl. The river takes on a life of its own, as it defines Margot’s free and rugged identity. Margot and the river intertwine so perfectly they seem like one. Within the novel, Margot acquaints herself with many types of characters who frequent these parts. Yet only those worthy of good character remain within her circle. With Annie Oakley as her role model, Margot makes a mean shot as a hunter with her Marlin Golden 39A. She is one tough gal who can take care of herself. She proves this on more than one occasion while barely looking back. But beneath her rough exterior exists a tender, caring young woman.

As Margot begins her episodic trek along the river in her trusty boat, she connects with characters, some loving, and some not so loving. Yet each one perhaps unknowingly teaches her valuable life lessons. Will she ever reconnect with her mother? If she does find her mother, will she accept Margot for who she has become? Unexpected pregnancy is another conflict for Margot. Will she still have the inner strength to endure her rugged setting? This unforgettable novel will send the reader sailing down the river, unaware of one’s surroundings. Bonnie Jo paints a vivid landscape of river country with carefully selected words.

This is an awesome read for those interested in rural culture and back roads.  Those who liked “Winter’s Bone” will indeed enjoy this.  Could this too become a major motion picture? Perhaps a great one.

Author Bio:

“Once Upon a River” has appeared on various lists of the most anticipated books of 2011, and foreign rights have been sold in England, France, Germany, and Italy. She has won numerous awards for her written works. Bonnie Jo has three previous books of fiction to her credit.

Bonnie Jo Campbell spent years boating around her grandparents’ cottage. They lived on a small island in the middle of the St. Joseph River in Michigan. She is one tough lady, just like the heroine in her novel.

The author’s background displays colorful life experiences. Among them are, riding her horse to Kalamazoo late at night, leading bicycle tours in Eastern Europe, riding her bike from Kalamazoo to Boston, and camping out along the way. One summer as an undergraduate, she hitchhiked from the University of Chicago to Phoenix, where she joined the circus. Bonnie Jo traveled by train with the acrobats, clowns, and elephant handlers from San Diego to Seattle. The rest is history of a grand writing career.

Campbell lives with her husband in Kalamazoo and teaches at the Pacific University Low Residency MFA program.