I put off reading this book for a long time. I get really skeptical of those summer blockbuster books that everyone just loses their minds over. The only reason I ended up reading this book is because my book club picked it as their July book. For me, this book did not live up to the hype. At all.
Caution: all of the spoilers ahead.
Kya is the youngest child born into poverty in the North Carolina marsh. Her mother is loving, but struggling with a life she didn’t really sign up for. Her siblings are much older, and aside from her closest brother, Jody, they don’t have much time for her. The root of the problem is her father, who is benignly neglectful when sober, but physically abusive when drunk. Kya’s mother reaches a breaking point, and walks away from the family. As her father’s abuse finds new targets among Kya’s siblings, one by one they begin to leave, too. Finally, it’s just six year old Kya and her father, who maybe takes Kya fishing in between days-long benders. Eventually, he fails to come home at all.
At this point, Kya is truly on her own. This six year old child is so in tune with nature that she is able to scrabble a living from the marsh, gathering mussels before dawn to trade for grits, matches, and gas for her boat. Except there is a safety net, of sorts: Jumpin, the black man who runs a tiny jetty and store. Jumpin and his wife take pity on Kya, and start bringing her hand me down clothes from their church and adding a little extra food to her purchases – without which this child would have had no clothes at all, and likely would have starved. Which makes the broken English dialect of Jumpin’s dialog (as well as the absolutely needless fat-shaming of Mabel) all the harder to stomach.
Fast forward, and Kya runs across Tate on the marsh, an old friend of her brothers. Tate also takes an interest in Kya, and offers to teach her to read. Which he accomplishes in one sitting. Because Kya’s kind of a genius. Pure, untarnished by society genius. Tate then starts to take more of a romantic interest in Kya, which is fine until you remember that at this point in the book, Tate is 18 and Kya is…14. Gross. Tate eventually leaves to go to college, and breaks his promise to come back for Kya.
Which leave Kya in such a fragile state that when Chase Andrews, the former high school quarterback, come calling, she falls totally under his charm. She believes him when he says he’s going to marry her, and then is completely shocked when she comes across Chase and his actual fiancée in town. And then Chase tries to rape her. And then Chase winds up dead.
Y’all, I haven’t even gotten to the following:
- Kya gets arrested for Chase’s murder. And a kindly old lawyer comes out of retirement to represent her pro bono because he feels sorry for her I guess?
- Kindly old lawyer totally Atticus Finch’s Kya’s defense, and Kya is acquitted.
- Kya, in the meantime while all of this is happening, manages to write, illustrate, and get published a book on NC marsh shells.
- This extremely niche science book is so popular that Kya’s brother, Jody, sees it, realizes that Kya is alive, and the two are reunited.
- Kya goes on to publish two more extremely niche books about the marsh ecosystem. These books are enough for her to completely renovate her “shack” and to live comfortably.
- Kya was also secretly publishing poetry under a pseudonym her whole life.
I just…I can’t. There is no nuance in this book. Kya is totally unbelievable as a real character. The nature stuff was interesting, but everything else in this book left me cold.