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July 15, 2011 by Reader's Connection

Swamplandia!Swamplandia! is a park in the Ten Thousand Islands area of southwest Florida. According to Ava Bigtree, whose family runs Swamplandia! and who tells much of the story, it is “the Number One Gator-Themed Park and Swamp Café in the area.” But bad things happen to the park, and the family is split up.

Chief Bigtree, Ava’s dad, goes away on an unexplained business errand. Her brother Kiwi goes to work on the mainland at the World of Darkness, which is Swamplandia!’s major competition in the area.

Her sister Osceola wanders off, possibly on a boat, possibly in the company of someone or something else. And the courageous, resourceful Ava goes in search of Osceola. There are stretches of the book with laughs on every page, and there are intense, frightening sections as well.

When I wrote about Winter’s Bone, another novel in which a teenage girl goes to heroic lengths to hold her family together, I spoke of that girl’s journey to the “underworld.” But using that word was my idea. The characters in Swampandia! speak openly about going to the underworld. Stephen King likes this book.

Laughs and chills! Lots of gators and maybe some ghosts! Have mosquito repellent ready when you check out the book. And if you were wondering:

Although there was not a drop of Seminole or Miccosukee blood in us, the Chief always costumed us in tribal apparel for the photographs he took. He said we were “our own Indians.”



  1. Leigh Sullan says:

    I have this on my wanna-read list, and would also recommend Karen Russell’s debut short story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves– bizarre and delightful, and the opening story is a sneak preview into Ava Bigtree’s world.

  2. Glenn says:

    Thanks, Leigh. I was thinking I should double back and read that collection.
    Glenn Halberstadt
    Reader’s Connection

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