Swamplandia, By Karen Russell

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The Independent Culture

Russell's short-story debut, St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, kicked off with a series of fantastical stories based in the Florida Everglades. Now readers can sink their teeth into the author's gutsy first novel about a failing alligator theme park. After the death of their mother from cancer, 13-year-old Ava and her two siblings are left to manage the family business alone. With 70 'gators to manage, there is no option but to sink or swim. As the boundaries between fantasy and reality start to blur, Ava's sister begins a romance with a ghost, while her brother defects to a rival theme park to pick up corporate tips. The plot may be familiar - a family wrestling with the pangs of bereavement - but Russell's primeval imaginings and exuberant language lurk long in the memory.