For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens. Through Kya’s story, Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps. (Penguin Random House)
My goal at the beginning of this year was to read 100 books. This book, Where the Crawdads Sing, was number 101. Honestly, there is something funny about this. I spent the last nine months reading through 100 books from a smattering of genres (fiction, mystery, romance, horror, non-fiction) and it’s this book that left me with the feeling I had been searching for with all these other books.
Do you know that moment when you close a book and think, wow. I believe it was Stephen King who said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” That was this book for me, pure magic.
Another funny thing that happened before I read this book — my uncle, who knows I love to read, randomly asked me if I had heard of this book. I had replied that I hadn’t. He told me it was a New York Times Bestseller. I shrugged because I still didn’t know it. Then that was it. Fast forward to the next evening. I am having dinner with a cousin I hadn’t seen for a while (thanks, COVID) and she mentioned having read this book. I immediately perked up. How funny that two people should mention it within twenty-four hours, right? Especially when it was published two years prior. She told me she had read the book in a day and really enjoyed it. I left her place later that night with her copy in my hands.
Now, here we are. It’s almost like it was meant to be.
Let’s get to the book — this story is a couple things. It’s one part coming-of-age, one part mystery, and one part love story. With that in mind, it’s no wonder I felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster in the best way possible.
I should also mention that I love books set in the South. Here we are in North Carolina with a “Marsh Girl” who overcomes insurmountable odds to become incredibly successful and well-rounded. Abandoned by her entire family by the time she is nine or ten, she rolls up her sleeves and manages to survive all on her own. It’s incredibly frustrating that the prejudice of those in town keep them from helping this child. Immediately your heart strings ache for Kya.
Then she meets Tate, who is such a sweet boy. He teaches her how to read and gives her that human connection she has been longing for. Right away you start rooting for these two, but as the author would have it, things are never easy for the Marsh Girl. Or rather, prejudice snuck its slimy venom into Tate. No, his cruelty wasn’t intentional. As a kid himself, he got scared and didn’t come back to Kya after he left for college. Abandoned once again, this devastates Kya.
God, my emotions became so mixed here. I still loved Tate, but wanted to shake him!
I don’t want to blame Tate for the unfortunate circumstances that befell Kya because of asshole Chase, but I do. Just a bit. Again, this poor girl was so lonely. Even so, she held to her convictions. I thought Kya’s strength with Chase was admirable. Sadly, he did break her down with promises of forever, especially for a girl who believed she would always be stuck alone. While he turned out to be a lot like her father (Freud would have a field day with this one), I do believe he loved her in some weird way.
Actually, I don’t think it would be unfair to say that in this, Chase and Tate are similar. Here we have a girl who is the talk of the town. She is seen as nothing better than trash. Meanwhile, she is incredibly intelligent. Mostly self taught, she blows both of these boys out of the water.
Though Tate has a PhD, she knows the marsh in a way that research will never teach him.
On the other hand, you could argue that Chase is more worldly or socially inclined, yet she knows more about life and relationships than he will ever know.
Neither one knows what to do with her. Kya is so engrossed in her own little world that they do her the disservice of thinking it’s because she could never make it on the “outside.” No, she isn’t empty headed.
I appreciate that Tate comes to this realization. I love that he loves Kya.
I HATE that he doesn’t try harder. Yup, I said it. Sure she hides from him when she sees him out on his boat, but she’s scared. Can we blame her? Everyone who cares about her leaves her. So, it should have come as no surprise that Chase refuses to leave her alone. His kind of “love” isn’t the good kind.
Here we have the mystery. At the beginning of the novel we find Chase dead, possibly murdered, after falling off the fire tower. At this point in the novel, we don’t know who he is. Instead, as we slowly jump forward in time to 1969 as we follow the sheriff through his investigation, we learn all about the Marsh girl and how she becomes the prime suspect.
I should have seen the ending coming. But, like the jury, I believed that there was no way Kya could have done it. We were given major clues leading up to the reveal. Here are a few:
“In sudden clarity Kya saw what Ma had endured and why she left. ‘Ma, Ma.’ she whispered. ‘I see. Finally I understand why you had to leave and never come back. I’m sorry I didn’t know, that I couldn’t help you.” Kya dropped her head and sobbed. Then jerked her head up and said, ‘I will never live like that — a life wondering when and where the next fist will fall.’”Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Chapter 41
“Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.”Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Chapter 41
“As Pa would have it, Kya had to be taught a lesson.”Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, Chapter 43
But that doesn’t mean she killed him. See, even I, the reader, underestimated her.
The reveal following Kya’s peaceful death in her boat had me so choked up. It was so painful, especially after having my heart soar to finally have Tate and Kya together. I waited the whole book for this!
Having Tate be the one to find her secret, not just the murder, but finding out that Amanda Hamilton, a local poet whose simple verses were published in regional magazines, was Kya’s pseudonym.
Bam! I felt like I was punched right in the gut alongside Tate. This girl was full of surprises right from the very beginning.
Simply put, I didn’t want this book to end. It’s rare for me to find a book packed full of punches. It’s one thing for a book to be well written, it’s another to make you this emotionally invested. I wept for Kya from the beginning right until the end. Never out of pity, but out of absolute respect. She never felt sorry for herself, at least not for long. She just moved on to the next thing.
While we all can’t relate to Kya’s exact experience, we can relate to the overall themes of abandonment, loneliness, heartbreak, delight, perservences, friendship, first love, I can go on and on and on.
I’ll need to stop here, because I could probably keep going. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do this book justice.
All I can say is, if you are looking for your next good read, pick up this book. How I came to this book is a funny thing. It’s almost as if it demanded to be read. So, I demand you read it, too!