Author: Karen Russell
Description: Swamplandia is a reptile theme park like Gator Land or Alligator World. It’s run by the Bigtree family (they aren’t Indian, despite the name). It’s a pretty sweet existence on an island in the swamps; the tourists take the ferry over and cheer for Hilola Bigtree (the family’s mother) as she bravely wrestles the alligators, who the family calls seths, which seems like an affectation. Just as everything is going well, though, Mom dies of cancer, leaving three teenage children (the book is narrated by Ava, the youngest) and a husband who doesn’t know what to do with them or the park, especially when the competing World of Darkness opens on the mainland.
Plot: The plot is probably the weak point of the book, as I was never quite sure where it was headed, and certainly didn’t expect it to end up as it did. In the end, I’d say the book was about what happens when the linchpin of a family is removed.
Characters: The children have been raised on the island, working at Swamplandia!, but not interacting in a normal way with anyone other than tourists. They (especially Kiwi) are book smart in some ways, having been schooled by mail and “library boat” (something like a bookmobile, I guess). So they are wise, innocent, and odd.
Writing style: Well, this is a Florida book and it has a Florida writing style. Not the kind of Carl Hiaasen hard-boiled weirdos stuff, but a sort of swampy, tropical, anything-goes kind of style.
Audience: It’s literary fiction. And I’d say it’s a must-read for anyone who reads Florida fiction.
Wrap-up: I loved the swampy atmosphere of this book and the narrative voice of Ava. I didn’t love the ending much at all. I felt like Russell found her tone and her topic, but not her plot. But the book was still very worth the read. 4/5*