Monday, June 20, 2011

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

This book sat in my library holds for 4 months before it became available. Every now and then I'd look at my holds account and check its progress. So when it finally arrived I dove into Swamplandia! by Karen Russell with great anticipation. The book accumulated loads of glowing reviews, the cover is fantasgreat, and the narrator is a girl on a small island in the Florida swamps. It pretty much said JOANNA WILL LOOOOVE ME.

I didn't LOOOOVE it. I do really like this novel and have no qualms with the aforementioned glowing reviews. Excellent writing - check! Compelling characters - check! Unique and oddball - check!  Recommend to others - check!  I also expect this novel to be recognized by the Alex Awards Committee in January. My hangup involves my own disappointment with what I wanted to happen and how I wanted the story to progress in my own imagination. What really happened was indeed logical for the progress of the story.

Our heroine, 13 year old Ava Bigtree, lives on a swampy island with her father, called "Chief" even by his kids, sister Osceola (who has the most pathetic sweet 16 bday ever), and brother Kiwi. They are not Native American but masquerading as so for their family's livelihood - running a second-rate, third generation tourist trap called Swamplandia! where they wrestle gators, sell the most ridiculous souvenirs, and have a museum that exhibits items from their house that Chief relabels and calls Bigtree Artifacts. Awesome. This tourist tacky, phony history is really part of Florida's history and I embraced this part of the story.  It's genuine and counterfeit. It's so Florida. And if you want to dig around some, connect the man-made invasion of non-native plants and animals destroying native Florida like the cancer that killed the mom and the World of Darkness that signals the end of Swamplandia!. Good stuff, friends.

Finally, while Ava gets main billing, I hold big love for socially inept Kiwi and his journey with his SAT vocabulary (he homeschooled himself and gave himself report cards) to real life shock and awe when he escapes to mainland in an effort to save Swamplandia! from bankruptcy. His story and Ava's alternate chapters.

YA Note: In the acknowledgements the author thanks  Kelly Link for the Bigtrees story. Ah ha! I really need to read her stories and Karen Russell's earlier collection of short stories which debuted the story that sparked this novel.


Patti said...

Hmmm. Sounds awesome. I wonder how the plot diverged from what you wanted to happen. We'll talk after I get it (in another 4 months...)!

joanna said...

Ha! I was thinking this would be a great book to chat about. It's to the author's credit that I was so darn involved.

Fly Fishing for Steelhead said...

I loved this book. It really is good and well written. But I feel deceived and depressed. I wanted things to turn out differently so much. So it's definitely good that it emitted so much emotion out of me, but I probably would not have bought it had I known how sad it would make me - how far it would drop me from my light-hearted expectations for a child's adventures into a dark alligator pit.

So yes, it's good, but I took it too personal.