Where the Crawdads Sing follows the life of Kya from the age of around six years old as she learns to look after herself in the wild marshlands of North Carolina. First her mum goes, leaving Kya to subsist in a shack with her father and siblings. Then one by one the older brothers and sisters wander off too, and one day a few years later her father stops coming home.
Life then for Kya is a mix of loneliness, poverty and joy. Some townspeople try to befriend and help her, but she keeps them mainly at a distance. Truant officers try to round her up and get her to school – but that only lasts a day due to poor treatment by the other kids. The joy comes from getting to know the marsh intimately – the seasons, the wildlife, the grasses and trees. As Kya grows, so do her collections, taking up room in the shack that is not filled by a family.
Kya becomes a bit of a legend in the town as she is so rarely seen or spoken to by most of the people, and there develops somewhat of a ‘competition’ among the young men to…. Well… I think you can guess. One of them is successful in developing a relationship with Kya, and when several years later he’s found dead in mysterious circumstances, Kya becomes suspect number one.
He was not her first boyfriend though, as another boy with purer motives teaches Kya to read, shares her interest in flora and fauna, and in a sense ushers her through adolescence as she has no one else to help her understand what it means to grow up.
Being a city-dweller, I’m always fascinated to read about people who live among nature and know her secrets – I think that was my favourite part of the book, although I also loved the weaving together of the alternating timelines and the character development.
I think every child wonders what it must be like to run your own life with no adults to tell you what to do. This novel is a wonderful imagination of that scenario, with a murder mystery thrown in so that not only must a judgment be made on a young woman, but also on the town that must realise its part in her fate.
I read this in just over one day and recommend it for anyone looking for a weekend escape (while remaining in lockdown, if that’s where you are).