b2s pick: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell


Swamplandia! by Karen Russell ( Knopf, 2011)

Agent: Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton

Status: Rumoured HBO in 2013

Summary: Taking place in the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and with Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.

The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly #1 in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage ninety-eight gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief. Notes: Wierd is one word, but wonderful is another. Imagine something from the mind of Bryan Fuller. Set in the whimsical backdrop of crumbling theme park and in Florida, which means anything can happen.

Notes:  Swamplandia! is a highly original coming-of-age story. Swamplandia! nearly bankrupt Everglades tourist attraction, owned by the Bigtree clan of alligator wrestlers. Early on in the book, Hilola – the mother and star performer – dies of ovarian cancer. Their father, Chief Bigtree, heads away to take care of “business” on the mainland, leaving the children undefended.  The three Bigtree teens react in different and dysfunctional ways. A story about barely surviving and finding a way to ‘win’ through the grief.

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