Russell, Karen. Swamplandia!
Booklist Reviews 2010 October #2
*Starred Review* Russell's lavishly imagined and spectacularly crafted first novel sprang from a story in her highly praised collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (2006). Swamplandia! is a shabby tourist attraction deep in the Everglades, owned by the Bigtree clan of alligator wrestlers. When Hilola, their star performer, dies, her husband and children lose their moorings, and Swamplandia! itself is endangered as audiences dwindle. The Chief leaves. Brother Kiwi, 17, sneaks off to work at the World of Darkness, a new mainland amusement park featuring the "rings of hell." Otherworldly sister Osceola, 16, vanishes after falling in love with the ghost of a young man who died while working for the ill-fated Dredge and Fill Campaign in the 1930s. It's up to Ava, 13, to find her sister, and her odyssey to the Underworld is mythic, spellbinding, and terrifying. Russell's powers reside in her profound knowledge of the great imperiled swamp, from its alligators and insects, floating orchids and invasive "strangler" melaleuca trees to the tragic history of its massacred indigenous people and wildlife. Ravishing, elegiac, funny, and brilliantly inquisitive, Russell's archetypal swamp saga tells a mystical yet rooted tale of three innocents who come of age through trials of water, fire, and air. Copyright 2010 Booklist Reviews.
LJ Reviews 2010 October #2
The Tamiami Trail, a two-lane road connecting the wealthy city of Naples with bustling, multicultural Miami, cuts through a river of grass known as the Florida Everglades. This wonderfully unique combination of wildwood hammock and cypress slough has been home to the mound-building Calusa, then the Seminoles, and now the quirkiest, most delightful group of all, the fictitious Bigtrees. A once-thriving destination for blue-haired tourists from the Midwest, Swamplandia boasted airboat rides and alligator wrestling until the death of the feature performer, matriarch Hilola Bigtree. The grieving chief fails to recognize that his kids are suffering, too. Osceola, the oldest daughter, communes with the dead. Kiwi, her brother, makes a pact with the devil, the Disney-esque attraction, World of Darkness, and precocious Ava secretly nurtures a rare red alligator, hoping to revive the family business. Like a kinder, gentler Carl Hiaasen, Russell manages to skewer all the Florida bad guys—Big Sugar, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Casino Gaming Commission—while writing a love song to paradise and innocence lost. VERDICT This wildly imaginative debut novel, coming on the heels of the short story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, delivers on Russell's status as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. A phantasmagorical tale of teens left on their own to battle their demons, mixed with a brief history of the Sunshine State, Russell's book will appeal to young adults as well as their folks. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/10.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL[Page 69]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
PW Reviews 2010 December #1
Few novelists debut with as much hearty recommendation as Russell, a New Yorker 20-under-40 whose cunning first novel germinates a seed planted in her much-loved collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. We return to Swamplandia!, the once-thriving Florida tourist attraction where the Bigtree clan—Ava, Ossie, Kiwi, and the Chief—wrestles alligators. After the death of mother Hilola—the park's star alligator wrestler—Ava, the youngest Bigtree, takes her place in the spotlight while her sister, Ossie, elopes with a ghostly man named Louis Thanksgiving, and brother Kiwi winds up sweeping floors at Swamplandia!'s competition. Worst of all is the disappearance of the Chief, spurring Ava to embark upon a rescue mission that will take her from the Gulf of Mexico to the gates of hell, occasionally assisted by an unlikely extended family that includes the geriatric Grandpa Sawtooth, the Bird Man, and a tiny red alligator with the potential to save the park. Russell's willingness to lend flesh and blood to her fanciful, fantastical creations gives this spry novel a potent punch and announces an enthralling new beginning for a quickly evolving young author. (Feb.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC