Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a beautifully-written novel that will stay with you long after you finish the last page. Set in coastal marshes of North Carolina, the story is part coming-of-age tale, a murder-mystery, romance with some courtroom drama mixed in.
The story starts off in late 1969 and town heartthrob Chase Andrews is found dead. Locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl, who was left to raise herself in the marshes of North Carolina when her family abandoned her at a young age. While Kya is dismissed as ‘marsh trash,’ in reality, she’s sensitive and intelligent. When two young men from town become intrigued by her, it changes all their lives forever. For more about the synopsis, click here.
We first meet Kya when’s she six and living with her family deep in the marsh. Her father is alcoholic and abusive, which forces her mother and siblings to run away, leaving Kya behind. Eventually, Kya is completely on her own and forced to fend for herself. She makes do by selling mussels, oysters and smoked fish. She spends exactly one day in school where she’s made fun of and vows never to return again. However, a friendship with a boy, named Tate, a few years older than her, opens her world up to education.
Kya is one of the most unique characters I’ve ever read. Since the story starts when she’s a child and continues on to adulthood, we really get to know who she is and witness her growth. Owens spends plenty of time on character development for Kya. She’s resourceful, intelligent, shy and capable. There’s quite a bit of tragedy that happens to her but she is strong enough to continue to press on. We see once people get to know Kya, why they’re so drawn to her.
The setting and narrative
There’s just something about books set in the South. We observe the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast through the eyes of Kya and it becomes an educational journey, too. There’s other descriptions that add to the story from the small town and its inhabits. And, I have to say, I love any details of Southern cooking. But don’t expect rose-colored glasses look at the South, this goes beyond the polite veneer where there’s prejudice, racism, judgment and ignorance. Especially when you consider the time period where a major chunk of the book is focused on the 1950s up to the 1970s.
For most of the novel, the chapters alternate between Kya’s upbringing and the murder mystery. It’s interesting to have a combination of a coming-of-age story with an investigation in two different time periods, but it’s done well. The two storylines do relate and eventually come together in a compelling way.
Owens wrote the story in third-person perspective so we learn the thoughts and motivations of many different characters, however, the main focus is on Kya.
There’s many studies that say loneliness is a silent killer. Can you imagine being all alone having to fend for yourself as a kid? Where everyone in your life has abandoned you? How could one survive? Those thoughts will bounce around in your head as you read Kya’s journey. And because of abandonment, she’s hesitates to make any real connections. But she can’t escape her loneliness, so she does open up her heart. But eventual heartache does lasting damage to her psyche. And it brings forth a turn of events that eventually tie to a murder case.
So, yes, there’s some painful scenes but Kya is resilient. And even when it seems the entire world is against her, she’s a survivor.