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The July book in the Inspired by Reading Book Club, hosted by Andrew Thornton, is Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.  Through the first half of the book, I kept thinking, “I just don’t get it.”  It was a struggle to read; I couldn’t imagine where any of it was going.  Then the Bird Man came on the scene, and I knew exactly where it was going, and it wasn’t anywhere good.

I found the book really sad.  I think the Chief and Hilola really failed Ava, Osceola and Kiwi.  Even before Hilola died, their lives were based on lies (“Bigtree”, Hilola winning a competition that never existed, the Chief’s mainland jobs, etc.)  They didn’t give the kids the skills needed to thrive and barely to survive either on the island or the mainland.  After Hilola died, the Chief wasn’t even providing basic care like laundry.  WTH?  I tried to figure out if the author was making a statement – that Swamplandia! was better than the mainland? Neither seemed much good to me.

Here is what I made:SwamplandiaOne of the images that stuck with me was the scene when Ava and Ossie go on the dredge barge together.  They find an old key, and Ava runs it across her neck drawing a couple drops of blood.  I used an old key and added two red dangles to represent the drops of blood.

I felt like the Bigtree children’s lives were just hodge podged together out of old crap. Not just in terms of material things (although Ossie’s birthday scene was just sad) but in terms of care.  The Chief was abusive – showing Kiwi the picture of himself as a baby surrounded by snakes and alligator hatchlings that they made into a poster and saying something like, “You used to be brave; what happened?”  And what’s up with leaving your two daughters on an island alone and not even calling to check up on them?

So I made the rest of the necklace a hodge podge of old buttons along with some glass beads that to me look like alligator eyes.

Even after everyone is “rescued” and they are living on the mainland, they just go on as if nothing happened.  The first night the Chief doesn’t say, “Oh my gosh, what happened?  Let’s talk.”  They watch a sitcom.  Their life is still a lie if only by omission.

I felt like Ava’s escape was the best part of the book, but I feel like she escaped into a life that will be filled with problems because she was still not getting the care she needed and deserved when the book ended.

I am so curious what others thought of the book and what they were inspired to make.   If you are too, visit Andrew Thornton’s blog to get the full list!

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