Karen Russell, Swamplandia. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. 316 pages. ISBN 9780307263995.
I know I'm two years behind everyone else who read and loved Swamplandia when it was first published. Every time I read a review of it I was sure that I had it at home. I never found it, and I guess it seemed so familiar because it was reviewed frequently and positively, and seemed to make it on a lot of lists for best books of the year. It was listed in the New York Times 10 best books of 2011 list, and was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction (sadly, none of the books won that year).
Swamplandia is about a family in difficult financial straits after their mother dies; she is their amusement park's star attraction. Their father, Chief Bigtree, takes off for the mainland, and the oldest brother, Kiwi, leaves in an attempt to earn money at another amusement park in order to save his own from financial ruin. This leaves the two daughters, Ossie and Ava, who are 16 and 13, respectively, to fend for themselves and to take care of the park's dozens of alligators. Ossie is suffering from romantic delusions, and runs away to get married to an imaginary lover. Ava sets off to find and rescue Ossie, pairing up with the Bird Man who promises to help her. The tension increases as Ava begins to realize that she may have made a mistake by trusting a stranger.
I found this book to be highly imaginative and very readable. I appreciated how the author delved into the characters of all three children, especially Kiwi and Ava. Kiwi's a scholar who has read only outdated books that he's found on an abandoned library boat. He learns how to navigate the real world when he goes off to earn his keep. Ava is a trusting and naïve young girl who is wise beyond her years. I highly recommend this novel.