Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Tag: Michigan

Bonnie Jo Campbell

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.


The Birchbark House Series

I love this middle grade series by Louise Erdich–The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, and The Year of the Porcupine. It’s the Native American equivalent of The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, I may like this series better than the Little House stories, and that’s high praise. Even if the stories weren’t set not far from where I grew up in Michigan (and even nearer to where I just was this past weekend for a family funeral, by coincidence), I would still love them. They are so sweet, have so much heart, great characters, wonderful setting. Louise Erdich did her own charming black-and-white sketch illustrations, too.

I read each new book as soon as it came out, and it was hard to wait because a couple years went by in between books. They are the kind of stories you never want to end, and yet you care so much about the characters that you just have to keep going to see what happens to them, …but then you kick yourself because you don’t want to leave them, or their place, their island home.

Just tonight I discovered that there’s a fourth book in the series (Chickadee) that came out in August of this year! A book I knew nothing about (which is just as well because then I wasn’t impatient for it). But now that I know about it, I can’t wait to read it, too.

I also saw tonight that Louise Erdrich has a new adult novel that came out October 2, called The Round House,  another National Book Award finalist (as The Birchbark House was) and it’s getting rave reviews. Amazon.com Review says, “Likely to be dubbed the Native American To Kill a Mockingbird…” Can’t wait to read this one either!

Whirlwind Bittersweet Weekend

I was planning on spending the weekend in Cary, NC, watching the UVA women’s soccer team play in the ACC tournament there on Friday and then hopefully again on Sunday, but got a call Thursday morning with the sad news that my Uncle Gary had died, so I immediately tried to figure out how to get all the way up to Ontonagon, Michigan for his funeral. After much arranging, it all worked out; I was able to watch the Friday night game in Cary and then catch a flight out of Raleigh to Milwaukee, where I would drive 6 hours north with my brother to Ontonagon (Ontonagon is in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on Lake Superior, way up north. Yes, it snowed.).

It was great to be able to be with family, many of whom I haven’t seen in a while. My Uncle Gary was my dad’s brother, the 4th out of the six Polakowski brothers. They were a tight bunch. Growing up I saw all those uncles and aunts and cousins (and that grandma) a couple times a year–at least. Read the rest of this entry »