Reading this book opened my eyes in a way they’ve never been before, on so many levels. Firstly, I now know how I can want to quit reading a book within the first 50 pages and then end the book giving it 5 solid stars on Goodreads. I’m fickle; that’s no surprise to anyone who really knows me. I change my mind as often as the wind changes directions, but I have never started a book thinking I did not enjoy it and then pushed through to finish with it in my top 5 favorite books ever. Have you ever experienced this phenomenon?
The book begins in The Marsh in 1969 with the murder of Chase Andrews. The half page prologue quickly brings the reader up to speed on his untimely demise. Then we are taken back in time to the same marsh in 1952, when the protagonist of this story, Kya Clark, is only six years old and is watching her mother walk away from their house with a suitcase to never return.
The author, Delia Owens, slowly takes you through descriptions after rich descriptions of the marshland. This is where I begin to get lost, like sinking into the mucky waters of the lagoons. Her details and descriptions obviously came from a place of knowledge and education, so I can appreciate the information. On the other hand, I typically enjoy stories with more dialogue and quicker plot development.
The setting became another character entirely, and as I discovered this was purposeful. After about 70 pages the story really began to pick up. There is a catalytic event, in chapter 11, that kicks the story into gear. The author does not spend a lot of words describing this event and how it related to Kya’s life, but the reader can see that this is a defining moment in Kya’s life at such a young age. The rest of the story unfolds switching between Kya’s childhood and adolescence, and the “present time” which is the time of the investigation into Chase’s murder. Eventually the two timelines collide, twisting and turning through the very last page. Did I mention that I sobbed quietly under the light of my bedside lamp well after midnight as I read the final chapter?
Perhaps my favorite change in the story was one some might overlook. Kya is alone at such a young age, having spent only one day of her entire life in a classroom. At the beginning of the book I could hardly understand her dialogue, which was one of the reasons I was so apprehensive about digging into this book. Sentences uttered by Kya, “Ya said ya’re too old to play ‘splorers” had me slowing down to decipher. As the story progressed and as Kya grew, her speech and even her thoughts became much more comprehensible. I even noticed a shift to when Kya sounded more educated than many of the townspeople who have such a prejudice against her.
Kya is a character who any reader will love. The story will have you reeling with questions of “how could they” and “why didn’t they” about the townspeople’s treatment of such a fragile and pure soul. The only explanation to these questions is that the time of this story demanded the mistrust of the “Marsh Girl.” Reader, you will not feel that mistrust, which is the biggest reward that Delia Owens gives us with her conclusion of Where the Crawdads Sing.
The descriptions of the land and the natural world outweigh the descriptions of any characters or events in the book. At first I thought this would be a burden throughout the book. I imagined skimming over the paragraphs that held the most depth, but I soon found myself appreciating and savoring every word the author supplied. No words were wasted. Even the scenes outside of the marsh were bursting with information and gave me a point of view I had not seen before. Every description of the natural world had a purpose and could be related to humans, bridging the gap between nature and man’s world.
“I’ve read a lot about this since. In nature—out yonder where the crawdads sing—these ruthless-seeming behaviors 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. And so on and so on. It happens in humans, too. Some behaviors that seem harsh to us now ensured the survival of early man in whatever swamp he was in at the time. Without them, we wouldn’t be here when certain circumstances prevail. Some parts of us will always be what we were, what we had to be to survive- way back yonder.”
– (pg. 237-238)
Do not be afraid of these rich metaphors like I was afraid at the beginning of the book. The payoff is worth it in the end and beyond. My literary world has been shifted by this book. My appreciation for strong portraiture of the organic world actually exists now, whereas before I would have turned down any book where the marshland was a main character. Now I’m Googling Air BnB’s on the North Carolina coast to see the beauty that Delia Owens dedicated much of her time writing about.
You can snag a copy of this book for yourself on Amazon or your local library, although I’m guessing you will be waiting in a hold line for quite some time. Let me know in the comments below how Where the Crawdads Sing made you feel or if this review helped you decide if this will be your next read.