Bonnie Jo Campbell

by julie swanson

Once Upon a River and Q Road, both by Bonnie Jo Campbell, are two really interesting stories–adult fiction. I really enjoyed them, and I don’t often read adult fiction. My mother-in-law and father-in-law loved them so much they bought them for me. They thought I’d appreciate the treatment of the rural Michigan setting, the skill of the author in her ability to show how the land and the water of an area can become a part of a person. So I felt I had to read them. And now I’m glad I did.

Both stories are set in Michigan, in the Kalamazoo area. The rivers, farmland, and woods of that area, the flora and fauna, they figure so strongly in the stories that setting is like a character. The human characters from Once Upon a River also carry over into Q Road. Both books feature fiercely independent female protagonists, teenagers/young women who are wild lone ranger types who hunt and fish and live off the land (along with a quirky cast of background characters). Although in Q Road it’s harder to say who the main character is; there are almost two of them, a 12-year-old-boy and the teenage girl, and in that story the point of view changes so that you take turns seeing things from inside the minds of many of the people in the rural community, a community where farming as a way of life is dying as the land is being sold off for development.

I don’t want to say too much. The story lines, the characters, they’re original, they’re fresh, they’re down-to-earth and real. There’s action and violence and drama and plenty of emotion but it’s all understated. The writing is beautiful and full of insights into human nature. I highly recommend these books and am looking forward to reading whatever else Bonnie Jo Campbell has written now.