Bonnie Jo Campbell | Fiction, 2011
Washington Post “100 Books for the Ages” Age 17
It has been a long time since I was 17, and I don’t know a 17-year old, but I am struggling to understand why Once Upon A River was chosen by the Washington Post as the most important book for a 17-year old to read. Our hero, Margo, is 15 when the story begins. She is raped twice in the first 100 pages and is obsessed with guns, killing any male deer that happen by her home and cabin on the Stark River in Michigan. Reviewers laud her journey, her bravery, her coming-of-age when she leaves her family home and ventures out onto the river in her rowboat. However, she never travels more than 30 miles upstream on the river, only to places she has been before. She finds a roof for her head in two cabins that belong to her cousins, and she is overly reliant on men, living first with Brian and then Michael. And then taking succor from XXX (yes, that is all we learn of his name) and Smoke, during her not-very-adventurous trip downstream. And there are no women characters except for a few cameos, the mom who abandons her, and the angry and worried nieces of Smoke. This is no story I want a teenager to read and take wisdom from.
As an adult, it is an okay-interesting tale, but with so many books calling out to you from your dusty shelves, like mine, I would forgo this one.