Review: Where the Crawdads Sings

Sunday morning sketch of Where the Crawdads Sing book cover

“Marsh is not a swamp. Marsh is a space of flight, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace–as though not built to fly–against the roar of a thousand snow geese.”

Delia Owens, first lines of Where the Crawdads Sing

Abandoned by her family, Kya Clark, lives alone in the North Carolina Marsh. Kya learns to survive and thrive on her own. This is that classic fantasy tale of the wolf-boy who survives on his own in the wilderness, apart from man and society. Or really, it is the tale of the witch–the woman who lives apart and is shunned and ignored by the community. Kya has a love of nature and is a collector of shells and feathers. As with any fable of the siren, two young men from town are drawn to her with tragic results. The town will sit in judgment of her.

Where the Crawdads Sing will be the book of the summer. I had hoped to wait until my copy at the library came up (currently number 1290 on 382 copies), but then I passed an autographed copy on a table at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park and had to pick it up. I decided to read a few pages, and then the book drew me in and I read it over the weekend.

Kya Clark is one of the most fascinating, strong characters created that I’ve read in a long time. Delia Owens makes her crafty, interesting, and yet always so wounded and shaped by the isolation and tragedy in her life. Despite that, Kya finds her own purpose. She dedicates herself to learning the world of the marsh around her. There are other characters (all interesting in their own right) who give her gifts–they teach her to fish, read, and eke out a living. In the words of Kya, “nudging her to care for herself, not just offering to care for her.”

I also like the way the book was plotted. There is a murder mystery at the front of the book, and the book jumps between the time before and the time after one of the town’s young men is found at the bottom of the Fire Tower. The stories move forward until they meet and merge.

There is also the naturalist piece to the book as well as poetry. Owens herself is a wildlife scientist and the author of several non-fiction books that sound equally fascinating to this, her first novel. As I mentioned, Kya is a collector and a naturalist. She’ll go far with this–but I don’t want to spoil that. The book also contains poetry, some Dickinson, and one other regional poet. The book reminded me a bit of one of my favorite collection of short stories, The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr. Others have compared her to Barbara Kingsolver. I hope to read more from Owens.