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Editorial Reviews

The Bigtree clan is a family in crisis. The mother, Hiola, has passed away and she was not only the main gator wrestler and star attraction at the Swamplandia theme park, but the glue that held the family together. Now on the verge of losing their beloved home, the Bigtrees find they are ill-prepared to deal with the real world into which they've been thrust. Each member of the family leaves their sheltered enclave convinced they can somehow turn things around. Yet do they leave Swamplandia more to save it or to escape it?
The narration duties here are divided in some very interesting ways. Actress/writer Arielle Sitrick plays the main character of young Ava in the chapters focusing mainly on Swamplandia. David Ackroyd takes on the role of Kiwi, the older teenage son, with his chapters being told mainly from a rival theme park, a place that's a bizarro alternative universe version of his previous home. The two narrators see things quite differently. Sitrick voices Ava as the winsome innocent and the mystic heart of a Swamplandia where anything is possible; however, did the nostalgic world she remembers ever really exist? Ackroyd plays Kiwi as the somewhat naive yet most practical member of the family. He has big plans and learns quickly, but finds things are not quite so easy out in the real world.
Karen Russell's Swamplandia is an amusing and well crafted piece that's a bit Florida gothic and a bit magical realism. Will Ava's rare red gator save the day? Maybe Kiwi with his big plans and Forrest Gump-like luck will come through after all? Will younger sister Osceola ever marry her long-dead ghost boyfriend? Then again, perhaps the various family pipe dreams are destined to fail, as perhaps is Swamplandia? In the end the characters and the listener have to question just what a happy ending for this quirky family would even look like. That's the journey that Russell takes you on with Swamplandia, and it's a colorful, original trip well worth taking. —Cleo Creech
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Publisher's Summary

From the celebrated 29-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (“How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s.... Run for your life. This girl is on fire," said the Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.
The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly number-one in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage 98 gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.
Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.
©2011 Karen Russell (P)2011 Random House
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Critic Reviews

“[Russell] has thrown the whole circus of her heart onto the page, safety nets be damned. . . . Russell has deep and true talent.” ( San Francisco Chronicle)
“Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride. . . . This family, wrestling with their desires and demons . . . will lodge in the memories of anyone lucky enough to read Swamplandia!” ( The New York Times Book Review)
“The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement.”( Entertainment Weekly)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Suzn F on 02-05-11

Sometimes Brilliant, Sometimes Disappointing

I am wrestling with myself (not alligators) about how I feel after listening to this book. This book is listed in Stephen King's top ten books you MUST read so I took his advice. I had also read a rave review from Carl Hiaasen, my expectations were quite high. And yes, I do love the premise of this story.
Ms. Russell does a beautiful job of inviting us into the swamp, we feel the heat, see the waterways, smell the wild orchids. She makes the run down theme park Swamplandia! come alive and that entertains. Throughout Ms. Russell produces beautiful prose that makes this book special.
However, I just can't join in the praise for the Bigtree tribe. Mother Hilola (think Esther Williams swimming with gators) is the star performer , Father the Chief runs the show, son Kiwi and daughters Osceola and Ava (the main character, an alligator wrestler in training) are home schooled kids who's stories drive the plot.
In the first few chapters tragedy strikes, the old theme park looses it's star performer Hilola. The children each react in their own way, and from that point on nothing goes right in the world at Swamplandia!
Although there are so many things I loved about this book, I think the narrator Arielle Sitrick does this book a terrible disservice. Her tween voice would be fine if she had read this book with even a little passion and feeling. Her narration was flat and failed miserably. Even in the most interesting parts, this narrator made me too often not care what happened next. I can usually overlook a sub-par narrator, but this time, I was so confused, I kept trying to figure out if it was truly the narrator, the prose or me. I think narrator
There were moments I couldn't put the book down, and moments I wanted to just walk away from this book.
I also felt that Kiwi' s part of the story was weak, perhaps if this part had been stronger and more engaging maybe the bad narration (female reader) could have been mitigated.
Maybe reading this book in text is a better bet.

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55 of 57 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars
By Anne on 02-07-11

Terrible Reader

I'm halfway through the book and it is ok. Not great, not terrible - ok. However, the reader's constant mispronunciation of simple words is very distracting. Gherkin = jerkin to our reader and bromeliad = bro-mi-lad. And possibly the worst of this list, the book is set in Florida so I would hope the reader would at least be able to get the pronunciation of Florida cities correct. Nope. Ocala = Oh-cah-la. Ugh. This is very disappointing and very distracting.

Her pace and tone are fine. She is young, but this is a 13 year old girl's story so I'm ok with that.

I would assume these audiobooks are edited prior to publication. Shame on the editor. Sounds like someone took a nap when they should have been listening.

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33 of 35 people found this review helpful

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