Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Swamplandia!” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating


3.19 of 5 stars 3.19  ·  rating details  ·  34,582 ratings  ·  6,014 reviews
Nominated for the Orange Prize
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
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 26th 2011 by Turtleback Books (first published January 1st 2011)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Swamplandia!, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Swamplandia!

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Hey, it's my latest (and meanest) review for CCLaP! I also put this on my CCLaP best-of-2011 list—for best total disappointment.

Perhaps Swamplandia! is a case of being careful what you wish for. Perhaps it was a back-handed slap against wish-fulfillment. Perhaps it should force me to reexamine deeply held prejudices, or at least preferences, which would make me grow as a reader and a person, ultimately making me more open-minded, forgiving, and calm.

Or maybe it’s just a bad book.

Let’s start with
I really wanted to like this book. It came with high praises and witty blurbs. It came with a cool cover. It started out fun and quirky: a family of alligator wrestlers living on a Florida island, running their own crazed theme park. But halfway into the story, I am stranded in the swampland. Stranded not by fierce monster gators, but by beautiful pointless writing with no movement toward either crisis or resolution. It's a mystery to me why this doesn't work, but it just doesn't. Beautifully wr ...more
Geez, Karen Russell. WTF?

I loved the idea of 'Swamplandia!' so much. The story is strange, the title is awesome, and the setting and characters are completely foreign to me ... alligators! swamps! ghosts! a bird man! Florida! lots of exclamation points used with wild abandon! ... Swamplandia! woo hoo, right?

Unfortunately, no. There is no "woo hoo" in this book at all. Russell is clearly a talented writer with a cutting sense of humor (of which she shows a few hints in the beginning), but this st
Krok Zero
So where did Swamplandia! go wrong? Was it the point at which the narrative branches off into two tracks, following the separate adventures of the protagonist's wayward brother? Was it the inclusion of a play-within-the-play, suddenly covering the life story of a new character? Was it the general shift in tone from quirkily heartfelt family novel to weak magical-realism about ghosts? Or did the real trouble begin at conception, when promising young fictionist Karen Russell had the idea to expand ...more
Swamplandia! is its very own Rorschach test. A reader can see in it most anything he or she wants. Is it a terrifying supernatural thriller? A fast-paced adventure story? An elegiac narrative about a dysfunctional family slowly spinning out of control? A cautionary tale about the perils of being an outsider? Or a quirky and dream-like parable using the swamp as a mythic archetype?

In fact, it’s all these things. Yet above all else, Swamplandia! is a lavishly imagined and highly original coming-of
Whenever I read a review on good reads that starts: "This was too dark" I just roll my eyes. Bring on the complexity, bring on the darkness. But this may have been too dark and sad even for me, not saved by an end that felt tacked-on. Darkness and sadness this deep needs some hint of humor to make it bearable, and this story is almost completely unrelievedly, unremittingly dark. (Well, okay, the World of
Darkness was pretty funny).

I loved "St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves" and really,
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sarah Ryburn
**** 3/4

Getting into this story was a bit of a task. Somewhere around page 89, however, I realized that I didn't want to put it down. Russell is an excellent writer, despite the occasional split infinitive (personal pet peeve), and her story sparked some truly rich and engaging discussion one particularly fine April evening. This is a novel that lends itself to discussion and not of the "I liked it when..." variety. Russell's approach is subtle; she is a master of "showing rather than telling,"
I didn't like this book because it was boring, not interesting and annoying.

Interested to know what happens, but don't want to waste more than a minute or two? Read my synopsis:

(view spoiler)
This was 4-5 star territory, until 7/8 through the book, you know: THAT part. I feel like I was sold a bill of goods. I liked what I was sold — a book with some seriously beautifully depicted magical realism, a hero with a call, and an unlikely helper, almost a spirit guide. I mean, I was quite aware of where that "relationship" could have headed, and I kept consciously thinking, I'm glad that I really believe that the author is going to take it on a more original path than that. But nope; even ...more
When gator-wrester Hilola Bigtree, Swamplandia's star attraction, dies, her family is left grasping at straws. Her husband, Chief Bigtree, up and disappears, off to raise funds for his Carnival Darwinism expansion project. Oldest daughter, Osceola, not only sees dead people, she's beginning to date them. Son Kiwi runs off to work for the competition, a bizarre theme park called World of Darkness. And youngest daughter Ava schemes to save the park with her secret weapon...a beautiful red alligato ...more
i confess: giving this book even two stars is a struggle. i was ready to like it, to praise its finely crafted prose - until maybe 50 pages in, when i started to feel some serious reading fatigue from all the Finely Crafted Prose (emphatic capitalization necessary). 100 pages in, and i was ready to throw my kindle against the wall in a fit of Finely Crafted Prose pique. i've got nothing against careful, ponderous writing, but writing that basically sits there preening at its reflection in the mi ...more
Jul 03, 2014 Jack rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: folks who like a sprinkle of wierdness
Recommended to Jack by: brother Phil
Shelves: jackrecommends
“The best book I’ve read in ten years,” exclaimed my older brother, Phil. Given that he is a bit weird, as are his tastes, I took his words with a shaker of salt. Phil was one of the very first hippies in Kansas, back when they were ostracized as if they had some deadly communicable disease. He has always marched to his own drum beat, a bizarre cadence that I often don’t hear or fully understand. So I assumed that Karen Russell’s Swamplandia would be as unconventional as my brother. But I had re ...more
Marco Kaye
No one writes sentences quite like Karen Russell. They are charming, mysterious, and miles from normal. Here, she vividly describes a meal made by Chief Bigtree, the wayward father of the book: “Tiny broccoli florets floated in the gluey cheese like a forest consumed by lava." The sky, “yawned blue at us, then disappeared.” Another one of my favorite sky sentences, “A huge hole in the middle of the ceiling opened into the clear night sky: it looked as if some great predator had peeled the thatch ...more
Stephen King says: "Sisters Ava and Ossie Bigtree are left in charge of their family’s fading Everglades theme park, Swamplandia!, when a flashier attraction (World of Darkness — think hell with roller coasters) opens nearby. Russell is a tremendously gifted writer, and Swamplandia! goes rollicking right along...until you get to the bone-chilling second half, which is as terrifying as Deliverance. It’ll be published in early 2011. Don’t miss it."

I thought this book was wonderful; the writing sub
Kim G
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Paula Margulies
A lushly written, quirky, and oddly compelling book, although I felt a little cheated after finishing it, mainly because of the loosely-ended plot. The setting is one of the best I've seen in fiction -- a steamy, mucky Florida swampland theme park called Swamplandia! hosted by the Bigtrees, a family of alligator wrestlers. The main character, Ava, is plucky and devoted to her family, which unravels when her mother, whose dives into an alligator-infested pond is the chief attraction at Swamplandi ...more
A.J. Howard

Swamplandia! begs George Saunders references. Karen Russell shares Saunders fascination with the peculiar Americana of the tourist trap. The titular attraction here is the island home of the Bigtree Tribe, a family of eratz Indian alligator wrestlers. However, whereas the attractions become characters of Saunders' stories, Russell's characters are themselves the attractions of Swamplandia. Their faces appear on the billboards and promotional material and one of the attractions is a museum devote

Jeffrey Mervosh
Wow. I loved this book. It is certainly not for everyone, as it is deeply dark and tragic and switches between silliness and terror in the unclear haze of magical realism, but it is also evocative, captivating, and full of wonderfully vivid prose ruminating on love and the loss of childhood. One of the best books and strongest characters (Ava) I have encountered in some time.

Update: After two weeks to reflect and think about my review I've down-graded it to four stars. This isn't to take away fr
Hannah  Messler
Well . . . well, okay. Okay, no. I mean, yes--she has a seriously goddamn dazzling instinct when it comes to turning an exquisite phrase. And the plot is inventive. And it's set in Florida, land of my sticky swampy childhood (o heart, o little busted swampheart). But . . . she has NO instinct for measuring out her exquisite phrases in palatable dollops; she just smears them all over every page with the mindless wonky-eyed mania of a two-year old frosting a cake--globs and wads of sugarpaste ever ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 10, 2011 Maia rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Maia by: NYC publisher
OK. Yet another hopelessly hyped-up Publishing Sensation / Great Talent Descends On Us book that is bound to underperform and fail expectations. How can it not? It's bizarre, it's too damn quirky for it's own good, it's far too aware of the eyes of it's audience on it and, worse, it's simply not--it NEVER is--even half as original as it believes itself to be. The talent's here, no doubt about it. Russell has some wonderful lines, some gorgeous descriptions and some incredible literary truths. Un ...more
Scott Rhee
A family drama about a clan of gator-wrestlers in the Florida Everglades doesn't necessarily sound like it would be a fascinating read, but in the hands of Karen Russell, it is.

"Swamplandia!" is a humorous dysfunctional family drama, a ghost story, a coming-of-age-story, and a commentary on the gradual destruction of our ecosystems in the name of "progress". It is both funny and deeply moving, at times heart-warming and other times disturbing, and it is beautifully written.

Russell's prose has
Jenny (Reading Envy)
When I found out that Karen Russell turned one of her short stories from St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: Stories into a novel, I knew I had to read it. The story this is expanded from is "Ava Wrestles the Alligator," and as far as I can tell, the story can easily be contained within the time period of the novel. It may happen slightly before.

I'm a little torn on this book. I've read some reviews that shred it, and I understand their points, but I think other strengths of the book red
I find Karen Russell to be a fascinating writer, but not for successful writing. I first came across her work when Granta Magazine published her short story, "St Lucy's Home for Girls who were raised by Wolves." I was quite taken and transported by the subject matter and style, and thought I had come across someone enormously gifted. On the strength of the story, I purchased the collection. It didn't stand up. Every story was propelled by some magical-realist conceit, and none of them displayed ...more
Allie Whiteley
Very powerful. Can the alligator- wrestling Bigtree family survive the death of their star (and beloved mother) Hilola and the popularity of new rival theme park 'World of Darkness'? Each family member reacts differently to the two- pronged crisis but when elder daughter Osceola slopes to the Underworld to marry her host fiance, Louis Thanksgiving, her 13 year-old sister enlists the help of the enigmatic Bird Man to go after her, the family unity is tested to its limits. Brilliantly written and ...more
I participate in a book club that reads only literature from this century. We try to read only the things that will be classic one day, or are wonderful and undiscovered. Sometimes we hit and sometimes we miss.

I entered this book with a cautious optimism. I wasn't sure that the young narrator would work for me - sometimes that sort of dumbs things down, and you never know what you're in for.

This is a tale that wanders off to places that are fascinating. I like the style, that meandering, with o
Although Karen Russell claims her indebtedness to several authors in the acknowledgments of “Swamplandia,” the book was so rattlingly new to me, I didn't see the borrowings. I had a swell time wading through the pseudo-comedy-fantasy, which she centered around an alligator-wrestling theme park in mangrove swamp off Florida's coast, and populated by the eccentric "Bigtree" family, headed up by the indefatigable Chief Bigtree (until he *was* "defatigable"). When I reached a climax of sorts three-q ...more
I can't believe I never wrote about this... I thought for a long time about this book after I read it, trying to figure out what it did and didn't do.

I thought the premise was fascinating, and some of the descriptions of the setting were spookily beautiful. What bothered me was the feeling I had that the author was completely detached from all of the characters -- that she was writing about people she didn't care about one way or the other. That feeling of complete detachment infused the writing
The Bigtree family is really screwed up. Since the mother and star attraction passed away, the number of tourist visiting their alligator park, Swamplandia, has dwindled to nothing. The dad is living in a fantasy that he can turn their park into major competition for The World of Darkness (think nightmare Disney) theme park on the mainland. the children are pretty much in charge of raising and educating themselves. The oldest child, 17 year old Kiwi, just wants to go a real high school and get i ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
2015 Reading Chal...: Swamplandia by Karen Russell 1 13 Jan 29, 2015 12:24PM  
Explaining the strange magnetism of Russell's story-world 8 26 Sep 26, 2014 02:54AM  
Books 'N Booze Bo...: Swamplandia! Follow up 1 11 Aug 27, 2014 01:19PM  
Books 'N Booze Bo...: Swamplandia! Discussion Questions 1 7 Aug 19, 2014 03:47PM  
On the Southern L...: Swamplandia, Final Impressions 20 54 Jun 19, 2014 12:09PM  
21st Century Lite...: Swamplandia 4/2013 The Whole Book 48 90 Apr 07, 2014 02:06PM  
  • Open City
  • The Pale King
  • Mr. Fox
  • The Tragedy of Arthur
  • Salvage the Bones
  • American Salvage
  • The Coffins of Little Hope
  • Stone Arabia
  • Train Dreams
  • Pym
  • Love in Infant Monkeys
  • At Weddings and Wakes
  • Lord of Misrule
  • The Angel Esmeralda
  • The Grief of Others
  • Say Her Name
  • The Manikin
  • Kapitoil
Karen Russell graduated from Columbia University's MFA program in 2006. Her stories have been featured in The Best American Short Stories, Conjunctions, Granta, The New Yorker, Oxford American, and Zoetrope. Her first book of short stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, was published in September 2006. In November 2009, she was named a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree. I ...more
More about Karen Russell...
Vampires in the Lemon Grove St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves Sleep Donation The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis The Bad Graft

Share This Book

“Hopes were wallflowers. Hopes hugged the perimeter of a dance floor in your brain, tugging at their party lace, all perfume and hems and doomed expectation. They fanned their dance cards, these guests that pressed against the walls of your heart.” 40 likes
“The beginning of the end can feel a lot like the middle when you are living in it.” 37 likes
More quotes…