Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

52%

20 Critic Reviews

Russell pulls the rug out from under us in a rather brutal way and we are left not knowing whether to laugh and applaud or feel grateful...
-LA Times

Synopsis

A New York Times Top 10 Book of 2011

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.
 

About Karen Russell

See more books from this Author
Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in The New Yorker's debut fiction issue and on The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list, and was chosen as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. In 2009, she received the 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation. Three of her short stories have been selected for the Best American Short Stories volumes. She is currently writer-in-residence at Bard College.
 
Published February 1, 2011 by Vintage. 418 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Humor & Entertainment, Action & Adventure. Fiction
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Critic reviews for Swamplandia!
All: 20 | Positive: 8 | Negative: 12

Kirkus

Below average

Quirky, outlandish fiction: To say it’s offbeat is to seriously underestimate its weirdness.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Janet Maslin on Feb 16 2011

“Swamplandia!” stays rooted in the Bigtree family’s emotional reality. Take away the wall-to-wall literary embellishments, and this is a recognizable story, if not a familiar one. But there’s no need to take those embellishments away. They are an essential, immensely enjoyable

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NY Times

Above average
on Feb 03 2011

The plot of “Swamplandia!” is nothing special...

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Guardian

Below average
on Apr 08 2012

...the language becomes even more exuberant but its impact gradually wanes, and in her effort to sustain it, Russell loses a handle on the plot.

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Guardian

Below average
on Apr 09 2011

It's difficult to commit entirely to one element of the book, especially as each undermines the others; and there's something uncompelling about focusing on a child's place in her family...

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Washington Times

Below average
on Jan 28 2011

...Ava’s journey through the swamps...become repetitive, almost self-indulgent, by the end of the novel.

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AV Club

Good
on Mar 10 2011

...Russell’s greatest skill may be at building a world that’s just a few degrees off of our own...

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LA Times

Below average
on Feb 13 2011

Russell pulls the rug out from under us in a rather brutal way and we are left not knowing whether to laugh and applaud or feel grateful...

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Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Keith Staskiewicz on Apr 13 2012

...while the novel deals in ghosts, whether actual ectoplasms or just unexorcisable memories, the characters, and their tale of family lost and found, remain triumphantly alive.

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The Washington Post

Below average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Feb 02 2011

Despite all the charms of "Swamplandia!," pacing is a problem...Good short-story writers like Russell know how much depends on endings, those final few breaths of ineffable melancholy, but landing a novel requires something more.

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The Washington Post

Above average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Feb 01 2011

Russell has perfected a tone of deadpan wit and imperiled innocence that I find deeply endearing, but readers allergic to self-consciously quirky characters should take precautions.

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San Francisco Chronicle

Good
Reviewed by Lauren Groff on Feb 06 2011

If given a choice between an inconsistent but passionate book like "Swamplandia!" and a more perfect and self-serious effort, I'd choose passion, the tightrope walk, the fearsome alligator wrestle. And I will read whatever Karen Russell writes in the future...

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Oregon Live

Good
on Feb 12 2011

Russell's debut novel shines with the glow of the southern sun and the hope that we'll see Ava Bigtree again sometime soon.

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Denver Post

Below average
on Feb 20 2011

Like any illusionist, Russell sometimes throws in a clunky trick...

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About.com

Below average
Reviewed by Jeff Alford on Mar 18 2014

It's difficult to make out whether Russell believes that children should hold fast to these habits or grow out of them quickly, and this uncertainty ultimately holds the grand success of Swamplandia! down, leaving the book to toe the line ever-so-slightly between thoughtful and perplexing.

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About.com Bestsellers

Below average
on Feb 01 2011

Let Swamplandia! be an example that creativity and eccentricity do not necessarily keep a reader’s attention.

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Salon

Good
Reviewed by Paul Di Filippo on Feb 19 2011

If you were to take the exuberantly fecund tropical paintings of Martin Johnson Heade and commission the ghost of Angela Carter to write a story based on them, you might very well end up with something approaching the garish and fierce beauty of “Swamplandia!”

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Chamber Four

Below average
on Mar 24 2011

But if you’re expecting...anything more than a handful of moments and a swampload of similes, go ahead and give this one a miss.

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New York Magazine

Below average
Reviewed by Dan Kois on Jan 30 2011

Swamplandia! suffers from a tonal disconnect, toggling between Ava’s tale...and Kiwi’s, a picaresque satire of modern excess. His coming of age suffers in comparison with the peril Ava faces in the Bird Man, the gators, and the scorching sun.

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National Post arts

Good
Reviewed by Brett Josef Grubisic on Feb 04 2011

There’s no doubting the sheer talent of Swamplandia!’s 29-year-old author. Words and ideas seemingly pour from her inventive mind in a torrent. It’s Russell’s inner editor, however, that could benefit from assertiveness training.

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Reader Rating for Swamplandia!
61%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 965 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


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Terri McGinty

Terri McGinty 5 Sep 2013

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