There is a 13-year-old would-be alligator wrestler named Ava Bigtree at the heart of Karen Russell's new book Swamplandia . When she grows up, she'll wrestle gators alongside her mother, to bring tourists and cash to the family theme park.
In a twist Ava’s mother dies, leaving the family bankrupt. Ava’s remaining family disperses and her father leaves on undisclosed business. He brother then leaves and her sister disappears into the Everglades to marry a ghost she met via a Ouija board.
An ordinary girl would crumble. But her sister’s departure forces Ava into the mangrove forests and swamps to find her missing sister.
For help finding her sister, Ava recruits a homeless swamp-dweller called The Birdman. He agrees to pilot her through the swamp. As he poles his skiff deeper into the twisting waterways, its clear Ava is indeed heading for misery, though the Birdman's direction is hardly direct.
The plot of the book covers well-trod terrain: An adolescent visits the shady side to reunite her family. When the story its destination is clear. No surprises and an easy read.