Let me start by saying: this is a genuinely wonderful book which you should immediately procure. Then make yourself some strong sweet tea, curl up in your favourite reading spot, and gift yourself a few hours to fall in love with it. I guarantee: it’s worth your time.
Where the Crawdads Sing is the debut novel of Delia Owens who, prior to its publication, had published only non-fiction books.
It tells the story of Kya, who local townspeople shun and jeer, calling her the ‘Marsh Girl’ with contempt. Kya’s siblings and Ma left her as a five year old girl, living in a shack in the swamps of North Carolina. Within a few years, her abusive alcoholic Pa also disappears and she is left, alone, to figure out how to live.
She is largely shunned by her prejudiced small-minded community, but forges connections with a few essential companions that serve as her lifeline – not only to so she is able to endure, but also so that she maintains some link to humanity despite her seclusion.
The novel follows her life as she figures out how to survive as a small child in the late 50s, becomes a woman in the 60s, and eventually is the top suspect for the alleged murder of the local jock sleazebag in 1970. The storytelling splits between the well-paced and engaging story of Kya’s life growing up, and the ‘present day’ murder investigation.
When telling a story set in this period in the USA, it is easy for writers to slot people into black and white / ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories. But Owens resists this urge, instead exploring the full spectrum of humanity’s kindness and cruelty, and rejecting the notion that any person can only be one thing. While this novel explores a life lived in relative social isolation, the themes deftly explore the complexity and beauty of human relationships.
It’s been a long time since I read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I suppose that is the novel with which Where the Crawdads Sing most closely compares. But I loved it so much more. Kya is a fully realised, complex, fiercely intelligent, and sympathetic woman. I feel as though I know her.
I’m not easily moved to tears, but as I tore through the final chapters of this book at midnight last night, I was choking back sobs. To feel so strongly for a character and her story is a rare and wonderful gift.
5 heron feathers out of 5