by Karen Russell

Overview: Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.

Rona Simmons (02/03/16): Ava Bigtree grows up in one of the most bizarre families in literature. Her father Chief Bigtree struggles to keep the family’s Florida alligator amusement park alive as other amusements move in and thrive. The entire family breaks apart after the death of their beloved mother and alligator wrestler sending each of the characters, Ava, her sister Osceola, her brother Kiwi, and the Chief into separate fantastic orbits across the hinterlands of Florida. “A single note, held in an amber suspension of time, like a charcoal drawing of Icarus falling. It was sad and fierce all at once, alive with a lonely purity. It went on and on until my own lungs were burning.”
Rating: *****

Joyce Mandeville (04/06/14): What did I think? Bizarre, Gothic, hilarious, literary and amazing. A triumph of American Literature and I believe that Russell is all of thirty years old. As an author I can't help but be jealous of her talent, but thrilled to know that we have many Susan Russell novels to look forward to.
Rating: *****

Gail Reid (03/26/13): Swamplandia! is a theme park off the coast of mainland Florida where the featured act is a family of alligator wrestlers. The mother, Hilola Bigtree is the star attraction and when the book first begins, the park, run by her husband the "Chief" and the teenage kids Kiwi, Osceola, and Ava is a successful venture. When Hilola dies unexpectedly from cancer, it is a sad coincidence that a more modern, exciting theme park opens close by and attracts all the tourists.

The book is narrated by the youngest Bigtree, 13-year-old Ava whose exploits run the gamut from adventurous to tragic. Osceola "Ossie" becomes a spiritualist and other-worldly and runs off to be with the ghost of a long-ago dredgeman shipwrecked on the island. Big brother Kiwi, an intellectual with college aspirations, takes a job with the competition in an ill-guided effort to help save Swamplandia! from ruin.

This is an oddball romp of a novel with strangely unique characters. It reminded me of what little I had read by Carl Hiaasen. It is also extremely descriptive and the reader is "swamped" with details about alligators and their habitats. Although funny in parts, tragic in others, the underlying bittersweet theme is about what happens when a parent dies and the family anchor is lost.
Rating: **

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