Swamplandia!

By Karen Russell,

Book cover of Swamplandia!

Book description

New York Times Bestseller | Pulitzer Prize Finalist

"Ms. Russell is one in a million. . . . A suspensfuly, deeply haunted book."--The New York Times

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…

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Why read it?

4 authors picked Swamplandia! as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

My novel shares a kinship with this book, also set in a Florida theme park—although one less Noah’s ark and a lot more alligators.

The myth of the Bigtree family is a roadside attraction: the family matriarch Hilola Bigtree’s daredevil dive into a pit of gators. The novel begins after Hilola’s death from cancer, and grapples with the dissolution of the family and their loss of purpose with the closure of the park. Ava, Kiwi, and Osceola are all on their own paths through the void their parents left behind.

Russell’s world-building is always top-notch, and here, the siblings must…

On a remote island off Florida’s southwest coast, the Bigtree family survives by wrestling alligators for tourists at Swamplandia!, but a brand new amusement park threatens their livelihood.

Southern Gothic at its most extreme, with elements of magical realism, Swamplandia! features a teen sister who courts ghosts following the death of her mother, a predator named Bird Man, a restless brother named Kiwi, and vulnerable thirteen-year-old Ava. Stephen King, whose work influenced Russell’s style, praised Swamplandia! as “brilliant, funny, [and] original.” 

From Ginger's list on featuring Florida in a big way.

Amusement parks, and the people who work in them have always had a fond place in my heart. Growing up at the Jersey Shore, some of my earliest memories are of the carnival rides and the games of chance on the Boardwalk. One of my first “real” jobs during high school was working in a candy store on the Boardwalk. With the front door open to let in the ocean breezes and the sound of happy screams from the arcade next door, not to mention as much free candy as I could eat, it was the best summer job ever.…

Swamplandia! is a wonderful intersection of nuanced relationships and place—this time the Florida coast (where I’ve also lived) and a family of alligator wrestlers (which I definitely haven’t done!). Not to give anything away, but there’s a scene near the end involving the protagonist, Ava, and the Bird Man, which is the most incredible moment I’ve ever read of a character realizing that their perception may not match reality.

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