Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Where the crawdads sing is a beautiful coming-of-age tale that brings together romance, murder mystery and wildlife. Set on the North Carolina coast, it follows Kya Clark, who is known to the local community as ‘The Marsh Girl’ because she grew up in the nearby swamp. When a local boy named Chase Andrews is found dead, the local community immediately suspects Kya of the crime – but Kya could not be any further from the ‘swap rat’ the locals make her out to be.
Kind-hearted and full of wisdom, Kya has survived without her family for many years in the marsh, collecting mussels and selling them in return for grits. She spends her days fishing, drawing, and producing intricate illustrations of the nature that surrounds her. Her only friends are the gulls that visit the little beach near her shack. Eventually, the time comes when Kya yearns to connect with others and feel loved. Enter Tate Andrews – a local fisherman who brings Kya books and teaches her how to read – and Chase Andrews – a popular rich boy who gets swept away by Kya’s wild beauty. Kya opens her heart up to love, life, and new possibilities – but what happens next will turn her world upside down.
“Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.” Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.”Delia Owens.
This book was a beautiful read that combined my love of ‘whodunits’ with my yearning for travel. As I write this review, the UK is going through its third national coronavirus lockdown, and the feeling of having been swept away to America’s Deep South is very real.
The story begins in 1952, alternating between Kya as a young girl and the investigation into Chase Andrews’ murder in 1969. The chapters about Chase are short and give us a glimpse into how the town views Kya (and ‘swamp folk’ in general) while the chapters about Kya see her grow from a young girl to a teenager and finally a woman. We learn how Kya became abandoned, how she learned to survive the marsh alone, and how her relationships with Tate and Chase develop.
“Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.”Delia Owens.
I enjoyed this dual timeline because I felt like it gave the plot depth and neither storyline was too long that I forgot about – or lost interest – in the other. Each year is marked at the beginning of each chapter, and there is little in the way of ‘filler’ – every scene helps to move the story along.
I knew very little about North Carolina before this book, and it taught me so much about the social injustice and racism that was rife in this part of the world during the mid-20th century. Through her vivid prose and captivating dialogue, Owens transports the reader into a distant era and introduces us to the people living with racial segregation and social discrimination. She also weaves the natural world and biology into the storyline, making it almost like a character in its own right.
“What d’ya mean, where the crawdads sing? Ma used to say that.” Kya remembered Ma always encouraging her to explore the marsh: “Go as far as you can — way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”Tate said, “Just means far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters.”Delia Owens.
The story is written in the third person and is clear and concise; at no point did I find myself skipping over sentences or flicking back to reread pages. There is also some beautiful poetry peppered throughout the narrative that comes into its own towards the end of the novel.
“She whispered a verse by Amanda Hamilton:Delia Owens.
You came again,
blinding my eyes
like the shimmer of sun upon the sea.
Just as I feel free
the moon casts your face upon the sill.
Each time I forget you
your eyes haunt my heart and it falls still.
And so farewell
until the next time you come,
until at last I do not see you.”
Overall this was a beautiful and captivating read that will be pretty hard to forget. The book culminates in a shocking twist that makes the tale even more fascinating. I’m looking forward to reading more books by Delia Owens and eagerly await the film release of Where the Crawdads Sing, which is currently in production. If you’re a fan of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine or The Keeper of Lost Things, then I think you will also enjoy this book.