All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where The Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens
Corsair Books
2019, 368p
Copy courtesy Theresa Smith Writes

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

A novel about an young woman determined to make her way in the wilds of North Carolina, and the two men that will break her isolation open.

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. She’s barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark.

But Kya is not what they say. Abandoned at age ten, she has survived on her own in the marsh that she calls home. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life lessons from the land, learning from the false signals of fireflies the real way of this world. But while she could have lived in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.

I can’t quite remember how this book came onto my radar a couple of months ago, but it did. A slow, steady buzz of praise that meant it gained its way onto my most anticipated reads for this year and when my fellow blogger Theresa Smith offered up a spare copy, I jumped on the opportunity. And I can happily say that this book lived up to every expectation I ever had going in – and even surpassed them.

We begin with Kya at 6 years old, who lives in an isolated shack in the wild North Carolina marshes with her family. One day her mother leaves, walking down the dirt road without a backwards glance. Then one by one, her older siblings leave until there’s just Kya and the next oldest, Jodie. Then Jodie leaves, and it’s just Kya and her alcoholic, often violent war Veteran father who is absent more often than he is present. Kya learns to fend for herself, cooking makeshift meals and making trips into town to pick up supplies, avoiding the suspicious and judgemental public. She avoids the truant officers who want to take her to school and when her father leaves permanently and with him goes his war pension, the now teenage Kya must learn to provide for herself.

This is a study in isolation. Kya is about seven when it becomes just her and her father and there’s so much that she doesn’t know. She knows the wild country around her, how to navigate the channels and rivers in a small boat, she knows different species of wildlife. But she reaches 14 and still cannot read or write. She is self-raised, or raised by nature, having learned as a child how to survive by necessity. The local population are mostly hostile and regard those who live out in the marshes as barely more than animals, sweeping their own children away from Kya or telling her to get away, assuming she’s there to thieve or something similar. When it’s obvious she’s on her own, the only people that help her are a coloured couple (this is the 50s/60s, segregation is still very much a thing) who run a local small store. The man, known as Jumpin’ (because he always jumps up to help when someone pulls up to his store) buys the mussels and fish that Kya collects and his wife helps by collecting clothes etc for Kya through her local church. They are pretty much the only people to show Kya a kindness, apart from Tate, a local boy who teaches her to read and teaches her about love – and about loss and heartbreak.

Kya is a beautiful contradiction of strength and vulnerability. She can disappear, melting into the swamp at the first sight or sound of someone unfamiliar or that she deems as a potential threat. She is strong enough to have survived for so long in this environment and from such a young age fending for herself. But she’s ignorant in many of the ways of the world and so she’s ripe to be taken advantage of by a rich, good looking young man who promises her the world and delivers nothing. When he turns up dead in the swamp, eyes fall on the ‘Marsh Girl’. There’s very little in the way of evidence, in fact there’s suspiciously little evidence but the eyes of the police don’t really waver, even when it seems as though Kya has an alibi.

This is a slow, meandering book for quite a lot of it, but that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable because it very much is. Kya is easy to connect with, we are with her from the time she is a small child. She’s younger than my youngest son when her mother leaves her, when her siblings leave. It’s hard to imagine my youngest in that same situation, and even though the world is different now, he hasn’t grown up in that environment, it’s still heartbreakingly young for a child who has, who is probably more self sufficient than a child of the same age in current times. Children rely on adults so much in those formative years to guide them and provide for them and love them and show them safety and security. To develop them emotionally. Kya has to make her own way in every sense of the word – and learn from her mistakes.

When this book stops meandering, it’s just on another level. I can honestly say that my heart was in my mouth reading a lot of the later part of the book and that I wanted to cry when it was time for the fate of a character to be decided. There was just so much about this book that played into my emotions in so many different ways. I wanted to protect Kya from everything that I could see coming that she really couldn’t. And yet I admired her so much for her dedication to her lifestyle and her connection to her surroundings. She made it work, forging a career for herself that made her successful and could provide a better lifestyle, but one that she didn’t want. The swamps were home for her and she was sure to do what she could to protect them. She was home there.

This is a stunning, beautiful story. I knew I was going to like it from the first page but it wasn’t until about 3/4 of the way through that I truly realised how powerful it was going to be and how cleverly it had been plotted out. By the time I reached the end, I was a mess of feeling, but the ending made me. Although Delia Owens has written three best selling non-fiction titles about her time in Africa as a wildlife scientist (which I now 100% have to read because Africa is an obsession of mine) this is her first novel. And it is perfect.


Book #12 of 2019