Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

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.

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