It’s not often that I review a book with these two disparate comments: I loved this book, but I disliked the ending. Typically, if I don’t like the ending of a book, it ruins the entire thing for me. Not the case for Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Let’s back track.
The book’s prologue is set in 1969. A dead man, Chase Andrews, has been found in the marsh. The police suspect he has been murdered and alternating chapters deal with the investigation.
Kya’s story opens in 1952 when she is six years old. Kya Clark is abandoned piecemeal by her family — first her mother, then her siblings, and finally her father leaves and never returns. Kya is only ten years old when she has to learn to make her own way. She lives in a dilapidated shack in the marshland on the North Carolina coast.
She learns to fish and forage for clams and sells what she doesn’t eat to her friend Jumpin’, a black man who runs a convenience store and gas station, and is able to buy grits and other staples to survive. Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel look out for Kya, providing her with boxes of used clothing as she grows, and making sure she always has enough to eat. It’s a lonely existence, until Kya meets Tate Walker, a local boy who befriends her and teaches her to read. Over the years, she successfully evades the truant officers who stop by to occasionally check on her. She prefers to learn by reading the books that Tate loans her and becomes an expert on the flowers, fauna, and fowl of the coastland. As she grows, Kya longs for companionship and love and for a time falls for Tate, until college tears him away. Vulnerable and alone, she meets Chase, the town golden boy and jock, and though her better instincts tell her not to trust him, her years of loneliness leave her defenseless and exposed. Kya is no match for Chase’s treachery. She mourns each of her losses, and the gulls become her only constant companions. She collects feathers, shells, and wildflowers and categorizes them by order, genus, and species in her shack, studying old college textbooks and eventually writing her own field guides. To the townies, she’s gained the reputation of a wild child — the Marsh Girl — mysterious and maligned — and for the most part they leave her to herself, until Chase turns up dead in the marsh and she becomes the key suspect.
Author Delia Owens is a wildlife scientist who has published three nonfiction books, winning the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing. Where the Crawdads Sing is her debut novel. Her prose is poetic and her lush descriptions of the marsh and its animal inhabitants render the landscape a character. Kya’s story of abandonment and longing broke my heart. It was Kya’s coming-of-age story that I found the most compelling, and the murder mystery woven throughout the book in alternating chapters, fell flat for me at the end. Still, I found Where the Crawdads Sing to be a ravishing debut that touched on contemporary environmental and social issues.
I recommend Where the Crawdads Sing for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Kaye Gibbons.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reads. Read my reviews and listen to my author interviews on WTIP 90.7 Grand Marais, Minnesota, or on the web at https://www.wtip.org/superior-reads-0 and www.superiorreads.blog