Title: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Published: January 17th 2018
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
#1 New York Times Bestseller
A Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick
“I can’t even express how much I love this book! I didn’t want this story to end!” Reese Witherspoon
“Painfully beautiful.” The New York Times Book Review
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Celeste Ng, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
Delia Owens, the author of Where the Crawdads Sing, has always considered the wilderness to be her best friend, living and devoting her life to nature. Owens is a wildlife scientist and the publication of her award-winning non fiction pieces indicate her expertise in nature based witting. Owens has always wanted to write a fiction based novel that explores how isolation affects a person. Ten years in the making, Where the Crawdads Sing has been released to critical and popular acclaim. This novel has occupied a spot on the lucrative New York Times bestseller list and it has attracted the attention of literary ambassador Reese Witherspoon with her popular book club. Where the Crawdads Sing explores isolation, abandonment and loneliness in a way that I have never encountered before, along with romance, mystery, ecology and murder.
Where the Crawdads Sing begins with the urban myth of the ‘Marsh Girl’. In an isolated township in North Carolina, there have been whispers about the existence of a girl who is at one with the local marshlands. When a local football star is found dead, the suspicion immediately falls on the notorious ‘Marsh Girl’, who is also known as Kya Clark. For years Kya has carved out a life for herself in the marsh, it is the only place where she feels at home. Although Kya has evaded social workers and formal education, she is incredibly intelligent and sneaky too, evading capture by local authorities after she was abandoned by all members of her family. Eventually, Kya, who yearns for connection, takes a chance and she forms a relationship with two males. Both these men have a huge impact on Kya’s life, in both good and bad ways. These relationships define, but also break Kya. Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautiful love song to the natural world and the marshlands of North Carolina. This novel offers the reader a very different experience of growing up, youth, first love, romance, friendship, secrets, mystery, murder and justice. It is hands down a truly unforgettable read.
2019 is turning out to be a stellar year for books and reading. While I am only into my first reading month of the year, I think I have discovered a book that will almost certainly remain on my list of top reads for 2019. Where the Crawdads Sing is a magnificent novel, so exquisite in its examination on the natural world. It also offers a scathing insight into isolation, a plot full of twists and it is populated by incredibly vivid characters. It is not often that a book renders me completely wordless, but this is how I felt going into writing a review that does this truly beautiful book justice.
The best place to begin with this book and my impressions on it is to start with the lead, Kya Clark. When we first meet Kya she is around six years old. She is surrounded by a gaggle of siblings, an abusive father and a mother at crisis point. The abandonment of Kya’s mother has a ripple effect. It sends her siblings, and eventually her father away. Kya must learn to fend for herself from a very young age. Kya’s isolation, abandonment and loneliness is captured perfectly by Owen, early on in the novel,
‘Surely Ma would come back for her birthday, so the morning after the harvest moon she put on the calico dress and stared down the lane. Kya willed Ma to be walking toward the shack, still in her alligator shoes and long skirt. When no one came, she got the pot of grits and walked through the woods to the seashore.’
The reader soon develops and attachment to Kya, I know I did. I felt so frustrated that her family, each and every one of them, even the extended family, didn’t come to find her. Granted Kya avoids the help of social services, but it just made me so sad this young girl was left to fend for herself from such a young age and for such a long period of time. Somehow, Kya flourishes, she becomes one with the marsh. She turns to help from an unlikely source, a coloured couple named Jumpin’ and Mabel. This friendship reminds us that sometimes race and class know no bounds. It was a touching connection that I found quiet joy in reading.
Where the Crawdads Sing contains a compelling narrative structure. The book spans a great length of time. It opens in 1952, with the culmination of events reaching a climax in 1970. The book eventually closes off in the year 2009. This is a sprawling novel, but I honestly didn’t notice the years or the time float past. The murder of local identity Chase Andrews helped to set up the main mystery aspect of the novel and was one, not the sole reason, why I was unable to draw myself away from this novel. Chase’s death and the eventual court case connected to his passing is incredibly emotional and unjust. Owens uses the case as a vehicle to explore themes of social inequality, racism, class differences, prejudice and small-minded community attitudes.
Not only is this a murder mystery piece, a rich coming of age story and a romance of sorts, it is also a meditation on isolation. When Kya eventually decides to make a connection with someone, which is what she craves, she is hurt again and again. It pulls her further back into her world as a recluse, but the results are not all bad as she finds her niche in the natural world. Using her home as a sanctuary and as inspiration, Kya paints and records what she observes. Her activities eventually attract positive attention and her work is selected for publication. Kya’s intuition, intelligence and aptitude for understanding the natural world reminds us that sometimes a formal education does not always negate success.
Another aspect of the novel that resonated with me in a surprising way was the use of poetry, which is filtered through much of the novel. Kya uses this poetry as a way to understand her thoughts and feelings. She also draws on poetry to make a connection to what has happened to her. I don’t have a huge appreciation for poetry, but I just loved the way it was utilised in this novel.
‘Winged soul, you danced the skies,
And startled dawn with shrilling cries,
You followed sails and braved the sea,
Then caught the wind back to me.’
There is just so much about this remarkable novel that worked for me. From the resounding themes, the unforgettable characters, the wild setting and the intriguing murder mystery, which delivered a final parting twist, that I didn’t see coming. It will wind you, it will definitely make you feel, perhaps even scream with the injustice of it all, but most of all, Where the Crawdads Sing will remain in your heart.
‘In nature – out yonder where the crawdads sing – these ruthless seeming behaviours actually increase the mother’s number of young over her lifetime, and thus her genes for abandoning offspring in times of stress are passed on to the next generation’.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $29.99
To learn more about the author of Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens, visit here.
*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.