“Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness.
As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality.” – Amazon’s Summary
Nothing more fitting than alligators and swamps for a book set in Florida! All the scenery writing is beautiful, engaging, and (for a person who also lives around swamps) extremely accurate! Especially the swarming mosquitos.
Ava and her siblings are all loveable characters, and Ava being our narrator as well as the youngest of the siblings made me feel very sisterly toward her. It’s certainly easy to feel for her. First, she loses her mother. Her brother and father end up leaving the island trying to earn money to keep the theme park open, then her sister also leaves to try to elope with her ghost boyfriend leaving Ava all by herself. She does immediately go after her sister, but the journey causes more pain before it brings forth a reunion.
Ava tries to work through her mother’s death as well as trying to save the park – her home – which they might lose after losing all their tourists. Not to mention figuring herself out – being just thirteen and living on an isolated island her whole life! Being too trusting and gullible gets her in a lot of trouble, but it also teaches her a lesson and helps her see just how strong she truly is.
I had expected more alligator theme park content, but the park was already tanking at the start of the novel. Most theme park content has to do with Kiwi’s work at the World of Darkness. Overall, the story was engaging and beautifully written; Karen Russell can make a mosquito infested swamp feel like home!