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
Open Preview


3.27  ·  Rating details ·  55,761 ratings  ·  8,064 reviews
The Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty is in decline—think Buddenbrooks set in the Florida Everglades—and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, is swiftly being encroached upon by a sophisticated competitor known as the "World of Darkness."

Ava, a resourceful but terrified twelve-year-old, must manage seventy gators and the vast, inscrutable land
Kindle Edition, 418 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by 418
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.
Popular Answered Questions
Caroline I didn't read any animal mistreatment into this story; the main characters care for the alligators deeply, which doesn't seem to be incompatible with …moreI didn't read any animal mistreatment into this story; the main characters care for the alligators deeply, which doesn't seem to be incompatible with wrestling them for show. There is a brief background thread where alligator hunting is discussed but not in detail. Mistreatment of humans that may be troubling; it's a spoiler and mentioned in the question tagged with a spoiler.(less)
Shelly not necessary, it is totally possible to read and understand without reading that book beforehand

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.27  · 
Rating details
 ·  55,761 ratings  ·  8,064 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Swamplandia!
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
May 17, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: coming-of-age
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
Krok Zero
Nov 06, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spring-2011
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
Mar 11, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Feb 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, gothic
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,
Weird and fascinating....Have to read more of this author.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 24, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-for-me
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)
Sarah Ryburn
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
**** 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,"
Marco Kaye
Feb 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Kim G
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jeffrey Mervosh
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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 Garden
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
Megan Baxter
Oct 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Swamplandia is the story of a family on the verge of failure, and the various ways that collapse comes to pass after Hilola Bigtree, mother, wife and celebrated alligator wrestler, dies suddenly. It's the story of a family struggling in uncertain economic times, being squeezed out by a corporate theme park, and the various ways Chief Bigtree and his three children, Kiwi, Osceola and Ava try to cope.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforc
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
Allie Riley
Mar 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 off to the Underworld to marry her host fiance, Louis Thanksgiving, and 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 writ ...more
Paula Margulies
Aug 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 07, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Michael Finocchiaro
This one started out interesting but then went off literally into the weeds with some strange ghost stories, some implausible trajectories for the characters, and an ending that was entirely unsatisfactory for the reader. Maybe it is just me, but I was not entertained with rape scenes or with the story of the competing theme parks - I found World of Darkness fairly ridiculous and wondered to what extent the book was trying to be a parody or just a criticism of the various Florida theme parks. Th ...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

Rebecca Renner
I live-tweeted my reading of part of this book (because I'm hunkered down for Hurricane Irma but thankfully I still have power). For a more extensive version of my thoughts on Swamplandia!, you can read the series of tweets.

In the end, I thought that Swamplandia! was a novel that really should have been a few strong short stories instead.

There was a lot to like about the book. I especially enjoyed the specificity Russell used when she talked about ecology, flora and fauna, and Florida history. T
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Transhumanism Handbook
  • Florida
  • The Tiger's Wife
  • Appellate Judge (Jack Ludefance, #3)
  • Please Don't Say You're Sorry: An Empowering Perspective on Marriage, Separation, and Divorce from a Marriage-Loving Divorce Attorney
  • Get in Trouble
  • The Bible: Enter Here: Bringing God's Word to Life for Today's Teens
  • Dangerous Angels (Weetzie Bat, #1-5)
  • Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories
  • Treacherous Estate (Jack Ludefance, #1)
  • Florida's Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber
  • Lapvona
  • The Candy House
  • Cloudsplitter
  • The Verificationist
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Matrix
  • The Sentence
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

Articles featuring this book

A young alligator wrestler tries to save her family's Everglades theme park in Swamplandia!, a fantastical debut novel from a writer of whimsical...
16 likes · 6 comments
“The beginning of the end can feel a lot like the middle when you are living in it.” 61 likes
“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.” 51 likes
More quotes…