“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”
What can you do when you are abandoned by your mother, siblings and eventually your abusive, alcoholic father? You can either crawl into a tight little ball and wait for a savior or you become your own hero. “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens, shows what life can bring when you have the fortitude to take care of yourself. Oh, and there’s a murder mystery as well!
Kya Clark is a little wild child, living in the Marsh of North Carolina and spending her time collecting shells and feathers. When her family deserts her in painful little steps, she learns to take care of herself, figuring out how to cook and finding ways to make money. Kya loves the Marsh, most especially the birds. In her loneliness, she becomes a naturalist, but her life is far from idyllic. The people of Barkley Cove look down on Kya. Nicknamed “The Marsh Girl,” she is taunted, bullied and mocked. No one offers to help her—with the notable and wonderful exception of Jumpin and Mabel. Just as the isolation starts to take its toll, along comes Tate Walker, an old friend of her brother. Tate teaches Kya how to read and write which opens a new world for her. She is hopeful he will be the one to bring her out of the Marsh and into the real world, but Tate is scheduled to go to college and like everyone else in Kya’s life, he leaves her.
The newly educated Kya then meets Chase Andrews, star quarterback of Barkley Cove. Chase tries to get intimate with Kya, but she rebuffs his advances. It’s not until he promises to marry her that she relents. Of course, she finds out that it was all a lie—Chase is already engaged to someone else. And this isn’t the only horrible thing Chase does to Kya.
When Tate graduates from college, he comes back to visit Kya and is surprised at her extensive collection of shells. He encourages her to write a book on them and that is where her life truly takes a turn for the better. Her shell reference book is a huge success and is followed by a seabird reference book. Suddenly, Kya can afford to get running water and furniture! It looks as if Kya will finally get a happy ending but here comes the murder, and Kya is the main suspect.
The book moves between time periods as it tells the story of Kya and the murder. The best parts are Kya and the Marsh. Owens has a doctorate in animal behavior and it’s apparent she has a true affinity for the natural world. The prose and descriptions of birds, shells and nature are wonderful. And the courtroom scenes were fast–paced, too. Kya’s romantic relationships came off a bit sophomoric to me, but it didn’t dampen my overall enjoyment of the book. Kya’s heartbreaking journey had me rooting for her from day one. Like everyone else, I’ve been grappling with quarantine and masks and life in a pandemic. Then along comes “Where the Crawdads Sing” to show what isolation truly looks like. After reading it, life feels a lot less secluded than before.