If you read Where the Crawdads Sing and loved the evocative descriptions of nature and the incredible story of a girl left to grow up on her own, you may enjoy Once Upon a River by Michigan author Bonnie Jo Campbell.
In Once Upon a River, Margo Crane's relatively happy childhood is destroyed one step a time. First, her beloved grandfather dies. Then her mother leaves home. At 15, an act of violence by a trusted uncle leaves her and her father exiled from the family home to the opposite bank of the Stark River. A year later, Margo tries to set the balance right, but starts a chain of events that ends with her alone, heading upstream on the river, with the vague idea to find the mother that abandoned her.
On the Stark, a fictional branch of the Kalamazoo River, Margo, like Kya in her marsh, is surrounded by wild things: fish, heron, duck, muskrat, and deer. Margo is uniquely suited to take care of herself on the river, having grown up at the heels of her outdoorsman grandfather. She shoots with the skill of her hero, sharpshooter Annie Oakley, and guts and skins animals herself. If Kya is the "Marsh Girl," Margo is the "wolf girl," raised in the wild, and she's not sure whether to be proud or ashamed of the comparison.
While Margo is content and confident observing the rules of the natural world, she is less confident navigating her human relationships. She cannot locate and reconnect with her mother right away, so Margo hooks up with a series of men along the river. It's a logical decision in her mind, since she is looking for someone to take her in. But her inclination to ‘wait and see’ before deciding how she feels about things often leaves her stranded in dangerous situations.
There's no murder mystery in Once Upon a River, which isn't to say there's no death. A person left to observe that in the natural world, the strong survive, will do what it takes to survive. Thriving is something else, and Margo has a long journey ahead of her before she can consider what she wants from life beyond her own survival. That journey is beautiful, heart-breaking, frustrating and thought-provoking. Not for the faint of heart, Once Upon a River is unforgettable.
Other stories of survival, living off the land, and overcoming obstacles set in a deep natural setting include:
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Animal Vegetable Miracle or Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
Wild by Cheryl Strayed