by Karen Russell
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Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780099555834
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/2012

About the Author

Karen Russell, a native of Miami, won the 2012 National Magazine Award for fiction, and her first novel, Swamplandia! (2011), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She is a graduate of the Columbia MFA program, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, and a 2012 Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. She lives in Philadelphia.

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Swamplandia! 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 240 reviews.
Maggie83 More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed Swamplandia! but it is not a book I would really recommend. It's merit is in it's characters. All are individually interesting and vibrant and even more so when thought of as a family. Russell goes into wonderful detail explaning the the rich and colorful Bigtree family and their Seths. It's the plot that's lacking! The first, descriptive, half of the book is fabulous, but so much more could've been done with the second half. The plotline gets confusing. I foudn myself asking "WHERE IS THIS BOOK GOING?" Not enough attention is paid to individual storylines and although the book felt too long, there needed to be more at the end. What happened to Ossie during her journey w/LT? What happened to the Birdman? What happened to Ava? What happened to Swamplandia!? While Russell touches upon all these questions, she doesn't fully answer them. You feel connected & interested to the characters and their sagas. You wonder about their fates, and then BOOM. THE END. This book needed more. That being said, I did LIKE it, but not enough to confidently recommend it to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When you're reading Swamplandia! you know you're in the hands of a writer who can make you gasp at her ability to use language, who knows more strange and interesting stuff than just about anyone you've met, and who has a boundless imagination. The trouble is she doesn't always know what to do with all these gifts and the reader doesn't always know what to make of the book. I didn't have any difficulty making the journey (the journeys) just for the sheer pleasure of Ava's and Kiwi's company. But like her characters I did sometimes feel lost along the way. And, at the end, looking back, I don't know what to make of the trip. I do have the feeling that there were a couple of places in the book where Russell made some wrong turns and got pulled into the vortex of her own brilliance. But to be sure, I will read her next.
LCJB More than 1 year ago
I'm still trying to figure out why this book has been popular. Frankly, I don't think I will finish it. It's all over the place, the overdone descriptions of each situation make me want to skip through large parts of the book. It's just not a book I look forward to picking up again. I'm reading it for a book club, and every other person in the club feels exactly the same way. I wouldn't waste your money on this one.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Florida is known for some of the oddest tourist attractions (some might say traps) on the planet. The state is home to Swamplandia where Bigtree alligator-wrestling has gone on for ages. However, several recent setbacks place the family business in jeopardy as the once popular stop appears heading to bankrupt extinction. There are talent issues as the star wrestler Hilia who brought in the masses to watch a female pin alligators recently died. The older daughter Ossie has fallen in love and elopes with a ghost of a man. Adding insult their brother Kiwi accepts a position as janitor at their more powerfully backed rival the World of Darkness. Finally the patriarch Chief Bigtree has vanished. Thus the youngest sibling thirteen years old Ava takes over her late mom's spot as the show must go on, but lacks her glamour and experience and besides has to herd just under a hundred gators and care for the park while controlling her grief. However, all changes when Ava believes she must rescue her father trapped in hell otherwise known as Gulf of Mexico; her allies are Grandpa Sawtooth, the Bird Man, and her BFF the midget alligator; at stake is her dad, the park and their island. This is a wonderful odd fantasy with the key players fully substantial that they bring core realism to the capricious tale. Obviously this is Ava's saga but the support cast enhances her save her world story line. Readers who enjoy something cutting edge different will want Swamplandia! Tour guide Karen Russell escorting them around the island, the park, and the Gulf in this enchanting but strange thriller (see St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves anthology for more entertainingly refreshing)tales. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Taken in by the cover, I was intrigued enough to read a few lines. I was hooked from the beginning. Russel's prose are of such moving quality that I found myself riveted. Innocent and dark, insightful and all-too-relatable; I ached for Russel's characters. A truly brilliant new author. A must read for those who wander from the beaten path and enjoy the extraordinary.
TEST NOOKUSER More than 1 year ago
It has been a vey long time since a book has intoxicated me as much as this one. Karen Russel's brilliant prose breathes to life unforgettable characters and reclaims the beauty of a forgotten geography. She gives the well worn theme of childhood lost a new perspective and keeps you turning pages until you are sorry there are none left.
babsbabsbabs More than 1 year ago
This one falls apart about three chapters into the swamp. By the end I was rooting for the alligators. Too much story spread out over too many characters and a lack of development to care about any one of them or their plight. By the end, I just didn't care.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was so gratified to see the number of people who did NOT like this book. I didn't either, and I wondered what was wrong with me, considering all the rave reviews it has gotten from professional critics. I was bored, frankly, and quit after about fifty pages. I was expecting something on the order of Carl Hiaasen, one of my favorite writers, and it wasn't, so that was my fault.
ReaderOfThePack More than 1 year ago
From the moment I read the synopsis of Swamplandia by Karen Russell, I knew I had to read it. Once I began reading, I could not help but think that the audience might include fans of Geek Love. I was not surprised to see that in her acknowledgments, Russell lists Geek Love author Katherine Dunn as an influence. No surprise, Geek Love is a favorite of mine. Swamplandia! is not a light-hearted tale. There are definitely things wrong in the Bigtree family after matriarch Hilola Bigtree's death. Hilola, the alligator wrestler, is the main attraction for Swamplandia! The family is unable to continue enticing tourists to their swampy island without Hilola. I don't want to spoil anything for potential readers, but very worrisome events occur after the tourists stop arriving. The book seemed somewhat slow-going at first, but the descriptions were vivid enough to keep me reading. It was all worth it. Swamplandia! is a new favorite for me. Many readers seem to have arrived at reading this book after enjoying Russell's St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. I am in the opposite camp. After reading Swamplandia!, I cannot wait to get my hands on her short story collection.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The fact that Karen Russel managed to produce such a honed gem of a book in her 20s (!) Is nearly uncanny. This book had so many shining facets to keep this reader in it's thrall- Eccentric outsiders,.characters so well-drawn that empathy is effortless, family ties, love, grief, wry humor, southern gothic ghost stories, history & science, heady atmospheres, teen angst & hardwon wisdom, trauma, adventure...and all shot through with bang-on metaphors, beautiful similies, descriptive vistas of aching beauty. Yes indeed, an awesome book and one of the finest credits to Florida lit. since Marjorie Keenan Rawlins' 'Cross Creek'.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
Things are not going well in Swamplandia! Once a major tourist draw with hordes of visitors each day, the death of the show's main attraction has put a serious dent in the business. Even worse, the main attraction was also the mother of the Bigtree family that runs Swamplandia. Karen Russell's novel is the story of how this family comes to grip with the loss of their mother and the possible ending of the only life they have known; that of the Bigtree family of Swamplandia!. There are three children. Ossie, the oldest sister who is sixteen, has never been that involved with the business, being a fey girl who drifts through life. She becomes entranced with spiritualism and soon convinces herself that she can talk to the dead and that dead boys are perfect boyfriends. Kiwi, the oldest and only son, has always wanted a 'normal' life on the mainland, and leaves the Swamplandia! island, determined to make it on his own and then figure out how to save the park. Ava Bigtree is thirteen and the novel's protagonist. She loves the business and her only dream is to grow up and take over for her mother. Chief Bigtree, the father, is one of those optimistic people who is sure everything will work out even when he has no plan to make it happen. He leaves on a mysterious business trip shortly after Kiwi's departure, leaving the girls alone on the island. Ossie disappears into the swamp, chasing her ghostly love, and Ava soon goes into the swamp to rescue her. Will this family ever be reunited and made whole? Readers will love the fresh voice and writing style of Karen Russell. Ava's spirit is so big it jumps off the page, and the ability to experience life from her young perspective is intriguing. The characters are memorable, and the reader gets to experience the Florida swamps in all their murky, humid, bug-infested, dangerous appeal. This book is recommended for all readers, and especially those interested in coming of age stories and those of families finding their way to make a live together.
mewant More than 1 year ago
gothic metaphors. in touch with current culture. ironic. told so carefully, always almost funny then not. pain expressed with out excess juxtaposed to another kind excess told through seriously innocent eyes. feminine child perspective perfectly expressed. an engaging story, never read anything similar. kids wanting to save crumbling family. and they do. probably helps i was a disneyland kid:) wanting to save my family. IMO, this is art. best book i have read in years.
T-RadSR More than 1 year ago
I think Karen Russel is an excellent author with great writing skill. The characters in this book are intriguing, the whole venture suffers by a weak and meandering plot. I'd be interested to read another Karen Russel novel but this one just barely makes it out of the swamp.
GinaS13 More than 1 year ago
I was enjoying the style of Karen Russel's writing. It is very vivid and her world comes alive off the pages. The description of the characters was also very good. What I didn't like was the story itself. First off I felt the main character was a bit old for her age considering she led such a sheltered life. The pacing was odd too especially at the end. It wrapped up too quickly. I also felt it was so unsatisfying in the end. I think Ms Russell has a great style I just hope her story is better the next time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think I'm being kind when I give this book three stars. It's not that the writing was bad, because honestly, it wasn't. It wasn't that the characters were awful, because they weren't. Mainly it's because about half way through this book all of the characters take a nose dive towards disaster and are basically ruined by life. From the start you know that life won't be easy for them but you continue to read it because the characters are loveable and have such great souls. By the end, the world is pretty much a confirmed poophole from which no one gets out alive.
Oldfan More than 1 year ago
The Book Report: The Bigtree family, two-generation swamp folks, have reached the end of their useful lives as purveyors of alligator wrestling and mild amusements to the tourists of fictional Loomis County, in the Ten Thousand Islands. Chief Sam Bigtree loses his wife Hilola, and after that the will to make his living there in the swamps with his three children, 17-year-old Kiwi, 16-year-old Osceola, and 10-year-old Ava. The book follows the misadventures of Ava, who is left alone on the island with the older, but seemigly tetched, Osceola, a girl who believes with all her heart that she is in touch with the spirit world, and specifically with a dead teenaged dredgeman from the 1930s called Louis Thanksgiving. Ava, older in spirit than Ossie, pokes fun at her sister's new beau the ghost. Things turn scary when Ossie, in the grips of what she insists is a spirit possession, abandons Ava and sets out for some Calusa Indian mounds which are locally believed to be a gateway to the underworld. Kiwi, meantime, has gone to "the mainland" (a place of fear and derision to the Bigtrees one and all) to work at the competing theme park. His journey from odd man out to local hero with self-confidence is about 1/3 of the book, told from third person limited PoV. Ava's hunt for Ossie through the swamp country, as aided by a tall, skinny stranger called the Bird Man, is the bulk of the book, told in first person as a flashback. What happens to Ava in the swamp is terrifying, what with the belief she has of traveling a spirit landscape into the Underworld in search of Ossie. What happens to Ossie on a similar journey is harrowing when we finally hear it from her mouth. All is finally put right in this weird and fractured family, the deus ex machina unfolding its long and shining arm to bring forth happiness and contentment. Of a very mitigated sort. My Review: Well, now. Where to begin. Lushness and loveliness of language? Yes, there is that. Resonant Hero's Journey to the Gates of Hell, complete with safe return? Check. Obligatory abuse of women and children by older men? Sadly, that's here too, though God knows I wish it wasn't. This is a first novel by a talented writer. I am sorry to say that it relies a little too much on currently fsahionable tropes to merit a good rating. I am sick unto death of novels by women that use adult males as bogeymen, from neglectful father to deceitful and abusive "helper." Stop it. It's boring. And, in case any of you women writers want to think outside your comfort zone for a second, what message is this sending to the girls in the world? Be afraid of men? And to the boys, you are intrinsically bad and evil and not to be trusted by women? Are these little details not immediately obvious to you, and if not, why not? But the book in question is, as noted above, lush and lovely of language. Its phrases are smooth and silken in my mental ear. Its images are beautifully crafted. Its mythic structure is nicely handled, though I could have done completely without the whole Kiwi thing. One hopes that Karen Russell will see past this lazy co-opting of trendy shibboleths and create something as beautifully thought out as it is written. Should you read this book? Yeah, well, they're your eyes, blink 'em at whatever makes you happy. Me, I'd go to the liberry to get the book, not shell out most of $30 to procure it.
manbooker1989 More than 1 year ago
Miss Russell certainly has a very original voice and very interesting way of describing events. But at times it can come on as too much. Ava is the narrator and tells the story of her family's circus of sorts, Swaplandia!, falling to pieces. Thing start off a bit slow, but the end is very engrossing. The book also tells of her brother Kiwi's adventures to try to rescue his family for foreclosure and his own struggles to fit in with society. Although at times a bit dark, Miss Russell shows real strength in her words and her characters. Ava is very endearing and one is at once sympathetic. Swamplandia1! is a very well-written book that some may love and others will disregard. But no one can say the Miss Russell is banal with her phrasing and prose!
RobertDigregorio More than 1 year ago
Swamplandia is a interesting read! I did not think i would like this book because of it’s name. I thought it would be a little kids book. I quickly learned that it was quite the opposite. It had many twists and turns, with unexpected things happening all the time. By the first chapter i read i was hooked ,and could not put it down. The story is about alligator wrestlers, a girl who talks to the dead, gambling, and a odd family going through hard times. The book made me feel like i was part of the world the author created. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes good books that are a little strange. I think the book left me with some questions unanswered. I look forward to reading more of Karen Russell's books.
bookwormVS More than 1 year ago
I chose this book because the critics were all raving about it.  I will admit that Ms. Russell does have a nice way with words, and some of the lines and descriptions are quite clever, especially in Kiwi's story. In fact, I would say that I enjoyed his arc.  Unfortunately, I found Ava's  story alternately boring and horrifying.  The descriptions of the lengthy swamp were repetitive and endless, although they did reaffirm my  desire to never visit the Everglades. On a slight spoiler alert, I was baffled by how the author treated what happened to her. It was a major  trauma that would have serious repercussions on Ava's life, and it seemed that the author chose to downplay it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It takes a while to really get into the main plot of the story and the vocabulary is a little dense...especially if you know nothing about alligators or swamps...but overall a really interesting book. Not a typical coming of age story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Given the harry potter and vampire success enjoyed recently, I would expect to see this book wildly popular.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I recommended this book from the hype alone. Big mistake! I found it disjointed, uninteresting, and forgettable. I did not bother finishing it. Too bad.
daraisvegan More than 1 year ago
This novel begins really interestingly, and a reader really grows to like the characters (quickly). However, about halfway through, with the introduction of ghosts, it loses some of the qualities that made it enjoyable to begin with. Also, if there are other possibilities for moving a plotline, why choose rape? In this text, it seems random, weak, and a little lazy. There are swamps, alligators, storms, etc. Why not one of those as a plot device? As others have said, the characters are what gives this book merit, but overall, it's a no.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Karen Russell is a brilliant writer. Original and not cliched in the least. Every good book has to be informative, have a great narrative, strike notes of the human condition to identify with and be entertaining and original. Ms Russell seems much more knowledgable than her 29 years. Her descriptions and turn of phrase are more than I've ever enjoyed in a book. I would not be surprised to see it in the top 5 of the NYT bestseller list before long. It is a very satisfying book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Truly unique and very enjoyable! Eerie and heartfelt. Would definitely recommend!