Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Book Review: "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens

It seemed like everyone had read this one already and couldn't stop raving about it. For some reason, despite all the hype, I just wasn't sure about this one—I thought it was going to be like the Jodie Foster movie Nell, about a feral girl alone in the woods who speaks her own language and somehow gets all tangled up in the real world.

While there is a little bit of the girl-against-the-world thing, I needn't have worried. This book is heartfelt, warm, and endearing, and utterly deserving of the praise and love being heaped on it. It is definitely a story that will live in my mind for a long time.

In the 1950s, Kya is a young girl growing up in a ramshackle cottage in the marshes off the North Carolina coast. She is the youngest of five children, the daughter of a wounded WWII veteran prone to drinking and violence perpetrated on his wife and children. One day when Kya was six years old, her mother left, followed by each one of her siblings. Left to fend for herself, she learns early that she is the only one she can count on, and turns to the gulls and other marsh creatures for companionship, until she befriends a couple who runs the gas and tackle shop where she refuels her boat.

"Her most poignant memories were unknown dates of family members disappearing down the lane. The last of a white scarf trailing through the leaves. A pile of socks left on a floor mattress."

As Kya grows older, rumors swirl in town about the "Marsh Girl," and it becomes a show of bravery to run through the marsh, tag her house, and run freely home. But Kya is so much more than the little girl once ridiculed on her one day of school. She is sensitive, inquisitive, intelligent, and passionate about the marsh and the creatures that inhabit it. When she meets a young man willing to open more of that world up to her, she can't get enough, although it leads to the vulnerability of opening her heart as well.

"'It ain't just that. I wadn't aware that words could hold so much. I didn't know a sentence could be so full."

When Kya finds someone that she believes loves her for who she is, she is fearful about leaving the marsh but willing to do so for love. Yet once again, she learns she is the only one she can truly depend on. And in 1969, when Chase Andrews, once the town's football hero and the son of a prominent business owner, is found dead, the townspeople suspect Kya, as they have never believed her more than "marsh trash" even though she has proven herself capable of so much more.

"For years I longed to be with people. I really believed that someone would stay with me, that I would actually have friends and a family. Be part of a group. But no one stayed. Not you or one member of my family. Now I've finally learned how to deal with that and how to protect myself."

Where the Crawdads Sing is a love letter to nature, but it is also a beautiful story about what you can accomplish when people believe in you and instill you with that confidence. At the same time, it's a story which causes us to examine our prejudices against those who are different from us, how readily we want to believe the worst about people we don't even know. It's also a story about the beauty of human relationships, and how much they give us, even through the simplest of interactions.

Delia Owens has created an amazing, thought-provoking book. Her use of imagery is so lyrical, almost poetic, that you can see the marsh, the gulls, the feathers, in your mind's eye. As great as that is, her characters are incredibly special. Even the characters who seem the least complex have surprising moments, but characters like Tate, Jumpin', Jodie, and of course, Kya, are simply amazing.

There is a simple beauty to this book and so much heart. Read this and you, too, will be thinking about these characters for a long time afterward.


  1. I stayed up late and finished reading this powerful book. I loved every page of it.