BookBrowse Reviews Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

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Once Upon a River

By Bonnie Jo Campbell

Once Upon a River
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  • Hardcover: Jul 2011,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2012,
    352 pages.

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Meet 16-year-old Margo Crane, an unforgettable modern-day Annie Oakley

It's too bad that Oprah's Book Club is now defunct, because Once Upon a River would make an ideal candidate for it. Whether this strikes you as an enticement or a deterrent depends on your enthusiasm for all-American pluck and grit in the face of obstacles thrown in with a dash of sex and a heap of tragedy, all in service to that glow of redemption waiting at the end. A cynic might claim that Campbell has meticulously crossed off each item on the Oprah-approved checklist: Self-reliant heroine navigating adolescence amidst poverty and family dysfunction? Check. Colorful yet familiar characters either imparting back porch wisdom or attempting to squash our heroine's dreams? Check. Hardscrabble rural setting that nonetheless offers glimpses of beauty to those able to weather its harsh vicissitudes? Check. Yet while Once Upon a River does occasionally come close to leaning on clich...

Could One Shot Have Prevented World War I?
When Margo shoots the cigarette out of a man's mouth she is following in the footsteps of her heroine Annie Oakley who, most sources agree, shot the ash off the end of Kaiser Wilhelm II's cigarette while performing in front of Queen Victoria and other European royalty. This act, around 25 years before World War I, led some to later comment that if only Oakley had shot the Kaiser and not his cigarette, she could have prevented World War I. Apparently, after the outbreak of WWI, Oakley sent a letter to the Kaiser requesting a second shot. She did not receive a reply.

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