I resisted Where the Crawdads Sing for the longest time—it was too ubiquitous with the famous book club crowd. (You know what I mean…)
But I got intrigued when I learned the novel was penned by a retired wildlife biologist, Delia Owens. The author spent decades studying wildlife in places like Botswana and Zambia and set up a foundation to both support villagers and base anti-poaching operations. (Her memoir of this time, The Eye of the Elephant, may be next on my list.)
This is Owens’s first work of fiction and it’s set on the coast of the state where I grew up, North Carolina. The plot follows two timelines that slowly become intertwined.
Kya, abandoned as a child by her mother and then by other members of her family, grows up isolated from modern-day life in a rundown shack on the marshes. Throughout her adolescence, Kya’s loneliness becomes deep and layered, but brings with it a deep appreciation and natural understanding of wildlife. She experiences profound loss, first love, and the exclusion and judgment of her entire community. The second plot starts 13 years later and follows local authorities as they investigate the death of the local town heartthrob and the mystery surrounding it.
Kya’s naïve existence feels so painful yet natural. While reading, I kept recalling Beasts of the Southern Wild, the 2012 film that follow’s a child’s mythological point of view during a hurricane on the Louisiana bayou. Which led me to wonder why no hurricane hits the marsh in a 13-year span—perhaps one unrealistic element to protect the longevity of the protagonist.
Like with Tara Westover’s Educated, I stayed up most of the night reading, utterly concerned about Kya’s heart and fate. The purity of her experiences are the extremes we all face in adulthood: discovering joy in learning; overcoming flaws; encountering abuse and scorn; and learning to trust oneself, above all. It’s part mystery and part celebration, both of the independent female spirit as well as the wild and untouched areas of our beautiful planet.
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Q Rating: 4 (out of 5)