Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell (2011)
Everything I read about this book described it as an outdoor adventure, a journey on a river, and I suppose it is that but that's also a bit misleading. Margo isn't traveling this entire time and, in fact, never goes very far from her home. Nor does she have much of an internal journey from my perspective. Many people who liked this book enjoyed Margo's character a great deal, but I didn't.
The thing is, I don't really even feel like I know her well. We have a close-up on her, but her thoughts aren't really shared which mostly gave me the impression that she didn't do much thinking. She certainly didn't talk much, and her human interactions were fairly limited. Later in the book, she opened up a bit more with people around her, but it didn't help much. She simply didn't have a personality. I couldn't picture her, or imagine having a conversation with her. Her interests and experiences were incredibly narrow and that didn't seem to bother her at all.
It wasn't a bad book, but I can't actually say that I liked it. At first, it was refreshing to read about such a strong young woman with amazing outdoorsy skills, talented with a gun just like her hero, Annie Oakley. But it got old after a while, and I don't feel like Margo grew or changed much during the book. Tough as she was, she wasn't really an active participant in her own life, but just drifted along allowing things to happen to her. I'm not really judging her - she's a teenager after all, and this story is just a couple of years of her life - but it's not especially interesting to read about. I also grew frustrated at how someone who was so self-sufficient in some ways continued to depend on, and even steal from, others to get by. Maybe get a job, Margo? But this never occurred to her.
This is also the second book in a row that contained more than one rape. It doesn't bother me normally, but after reading An Untamed State I was sort of like oh no, not more of this! Even worse, it wasn't really dealt with in this book. Again, I don't know what Margo thought or felt about what happened to her, not really.
I know a lot of people really like this book. It comes up on various lists and whatnot, which is why it stayed on my To Read list for so long. I'm not sorry I read it - I didn't dislike it enough to stop reading it and even liked it pretty well for probably about the first half. Not enough books center on people who are so off-the-grid and are basically happy living a simple life, hunting and fishing to sustain themselves. But I don't feel like the story went anywhere or resolved anything, and Margo didn't grow much as a character despite everything that happened to her. I would have liked to see her take charge a bit more, realize the ways she limits herself, and maybe even grow a sense of humor.
This was my final book for my TBR Pile Challenge, which I have now completed. I'm super impressed that I managed to do so in only half a year, especially since I didn't finish at all last year.