Friday, October 28, 2011

Review #17: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

I. Loved. This. Book.

Seriously. This was easily in the top 5 books I've read this year.

Ava Bigtree's family owns Swamplandia, an alligator-themed amusement park in the heart of the Everglades. Her mother, a world-renowned alligator wrestler, has recently passed away of cancer, and so Ava, her father, Chief Bigtree, and her brother and sister, Kiwi and Osceola, must learn to fend for themselves. As their park loses customers and the Bigtrees slowly lose money, their family begins to fall apart. The Chief leaves, Kiwi runs away, Ossie disappears, and Ava, an aspiring gator wrestler herself, must find her sister and restore her family, and Swamplandia, to their former glory.

This is definitely an odd book--it's got some slightly post-modern and dystopian elements to it. The world the Bigtrees inhabit is easily identifiable as contemporary America, and yet Russell uses subtly satirical details to make it unfamiliar and bizarre. However, this just makes this novel all the more fresh and interesting.

This is unlike any other novel I've read. Russell has incredible ideas and is an insanely good writer, and she creates characters that I truly felt for and a world that feels tangible and real. Ava is a kick-ass heroine--smart, funny, and strong, while still maintaining some of her childhood innocence. She's one of the greatest female heroines I've ever encountered.

Although this book has plenty of funny moments, Russell doesn't shy away from poignancy and emotional depth. Ava is, despite her tough exterior, still a little girl, and Russell uses her to convey the intense pain of losing a parent and of one's childhood world changing and collapsing. I cried as much as I laughed, and to me, that's the sign of a great book.

Go out and buy it. You won't regret it.

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