ONCE UPON A RIVER by Bonnie Jo Campbell (is my Book Girlfriend)


You know the book that you’ve been wanting and meaning to read forever and there’s no excuse for why you haven’t bought it and read it, you just…. haven’t?

Once Upon a River is that book for me.

I picked it up as travel reading for a Texas wedding I went to this past weekend. While having my purchase rung up, I thought to myself “Once Upon a River, you BETTER hold onto my attention during my two flights and layover in between and that is not going to be easy to do between me being uncomfortable in my middle seat and being freezing because the airplane air con is on full blast and accidentally leaving my sweater in the luggage I checked and babies are going to be screaming and I’m going to get hungry mid-flight and realize I forgot to pack snacks.”

But you know what?  Once Upon a River DID hold my attention through all that. And when I got to my hotel finally (I rented a car and drove into middle of nowhere Texas, you would have gotten lost too!) I ran a bath and stayed up til 2AM reading.

Let’s SYNOPSIS GADGET this sucker.

(Gadget makes buzzing, whirring, and occasional hiccuping sounds as it starts up)

Margo Crane is a river girl, living on the Stark River in Michigan. She’s a girl that can live off the land, the kind of girl who knows which mushrooms to eat (and which ones DEFINITELY DEFINITELY DEFINITELY not to eat)  and is a deadly with a rifle. Margo’s also a car magnet for trouble: after her grandpa dies and her mother abandons her, a chain of events is set into motion that leads to Margo’s assault and her father’s death. Living on the water is no Walden Pond for the Stark River-side dwellers. Her father’s death sets Margo on a stop-and-start journey to find her mother.

I say stop-and-start because blurbs of this book compared the novel to stories like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey, and that’s not accurate. Margo goes up and back down the river, meeting new people while running into the same old friends and foes time and time again, spending lengthy amounts of times at each one of her “stops.” It’s not a typical Destination-A-to-Destination-B journey, and the fact that it wasn’t typical is also the same fact that made the story so surprising and the world  feel so real.

This novel amazed me. The plot was twisty, not whodunnit-murder-mystery-twisty, just life-takes-the-strangest-turns-sometimes twisty. The prose was beautiful without making a big deal about the fact that it was beautiful. And I’ve never read a journey like Margo Crane’s. I can come up with comparisons- Ava Bigtree in Swamplandia, Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone, even Astrid Magnussen in  White Oleander, and still Margo Crane was a character all her own and her world, Michigan’s river country was all its own.

If you’re look for just a great novel to eat up with a fork and a spoon, get your ass to your local bookstore/library/phone so you can download and get on this train.



She just came out of the river and needs to get dry!

Going to wrap her up like a burrito just like my mom used to do to me when I got out of the pool.


Kisses, kisses, dry kisses on land!


5 Comments on “ONCE UPON A RIVER by Bonnie Jo Campbell (is my Book Girlfriend)”

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    Well, I am from Michigan, now living in LA. Some reviews put me off this book but I really wanted to read it because of the Michigan connection. You have given me new hope.

  2. equotah says:

    I loved this book, and I think more people should read it.

  3. This book has been on my Kindle since it came out and now I hate myself.
    But I don’t hate your blog. This is the cutest thing ever, I’m so glad I stumbled this way.

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