Another Florida book that deals with family and choice, Swamplandia by Karen Russell has much darker overtones. At the center is a family coping with great change – the loss of their matriarch.
The book also weaves subplots such as the steady loss of their livelihood, the loss of a cohesive family, and the loss of innocence. The Bigtree family runs a roadside attraction like many that were so popular in Florida in the 1950s and 60s.
With not so subtle comparisons to Disney World, a major theme park opens and steadily drains Swamplandia’s paying clientele until the family business is merely a shattered hulk of what it had been just as the family itself is cracked and broken.
Here the fantasies indulged by the children are dark and dangerous, such as the ghostly lover that lures Ossie, the oldest sister, far from home and the brother who escapes into the evil world of big cities. Ava, the youngest child, goes to great lengths to rescue her family and along the way endures haunting abuse.
Ms. Russell’s writing is beautifully descriptive. She has written some of the best albeit quirky descriptions of Florida I have read:
She creates Tim Burton images with words:
Her images and her characters will haunt you long after you close Swamplandia, as real as Ossie’s ghosts.
The SkyHorse by HL Carpenter
This young adult book is written by the mother/daughter team of Helen and Lori Carpenter and is set in a fictional small town in Florida.
Protagonist Tovi Taggert is new in town, starting high school, and almost six feet tall. If that wasn’t enough for this frustrated teen, boys are spreading rumors about her and girls are accusing her of attempting to steal their boyfriends.
While this may seem like just another tale of misfits and mean girls it deals with some very serious questions and interweaves issues with fantasy storylines.
I wish there had been more info on the Choking Game and the dangerous attraction it can have but the subject is dealt with candor and the writers are not overly preachy. The book examines issues that young and old face without the bad language and vulgarity. Can Tovi make friends among the popular teens and still be true to herself? Is it more important to be popular or truthful? What if you make a wish and it comes true but your life is even more complicated?
In the end, Tovi realizes that her choices are not easy but she has done her best for herself, her family, her friends, and the Sky Horse.