17 of 21
336 pages; Knopf
The genius plot: A 13-year-old girl tries to save her family's Florida alligator park while her sister communes with swamp ghosts and her brother works at the competing mega-attraction the World of Darkness.

The twist: Expect the heartbreaking and true, not just the wacky and possibly paranormal.

The riveting opening scene: "Mom swam...the entire length of the lake. People screamed and pointed whenever an alligator swam into the spotlight with her, a plump and switching tail cutting suddenly into its margarine wavelength, the spade of the monster's face jawing up at her side."

The moment that changes everything: "Hilola Jane Bigtree, world-class alligator wrestler, terrible cook, mother of three died in dryland hospital bed in West Davey on an overcast Wednesday March 10, at 3:12 p.m."

The bit of reptilian trivia we'll always remember: Alligators can run faster than Arabian horses on land.
— Leigh Newman