Published by: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publish Date: 2018
Genre(s): Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery
HB&W Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
View on Goodreads
Buy on Amazon: Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository
Kya threw her hands up, releasing all the leaves she had rescued back into the wind. As she ran back through them, they caught like gold in her hair.
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps. (Source: Goodreads)
There was a lot of hype for this book, and everyone and their mother (mine included) has been remarking on what a great book it is. Occasionally, as in the last book I reviewed (The Tattooist of Auschwitz), I find myself in the minority of people who didn’t like the book. I’m happy to say that Where the Crawdads Sing was as good as it was touted to be.
She stared at dust motes, dancing silently in one direction as though following some dreamy leader. When they hit the shadows, they vanished. Without the sun they were nothing.
Beautifully written and told in two eventually converging timelines, we get to know our heroine, Kya, aka “The Marsh Girl,” personally, following her story from an abandoned child into renown author. Owens covers many things in this story, from the recurrent themes of nature and science to prejudice to the perseverance of a child set to endure against all odds. She also touches on abuse, neglect, poverty, and especially on the effects of how childhood experiences shape our experiences and behavior into adulthood.
Some female insects eat their mates, overstressed mammal mothers abandon their young, many males design risky or shifty ways to outsperm their competitors. Nothing seemed too indecorous as long as the tick and the tock of life carried on. She knew this was not a dark side to Nature, just inventive ways to endure against all odds.
Kya is a quiet, shy girl / woman, who doesn’t trust easily and has learned to rely on herself. She has a certain sardonic sense of humor as well, a frank way of stating things that evokes a wry smile from the reader.
Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.
A lonely girl, abandoned by her mother and subsequently her older siblings, then eventually by her abusive alcoholic of a father, Kya survives on her own in the bush, finding her solace in nature, her friends in the gulls, and peace in her marsh. Teased mercilessly by the other kids on the one day she went to school, she vowed never to go back and spends the next many years dodging the truant officer. She didn’t learn to read until as a teenager, Tate, a friend of her brother Jodie’s, taught her. Once she started reading, she never stopped. My kind of girl ;). Isolated as she was, she became a sort of legend around the town, where clutching their pearls on their way to Sunday morning church, small-minded people looked down on those who are different than them.
The pacing of the story was slow, but not in a boring way – more like a Southern way. Like the low speed of a paddle fan on a wraparound veranda, a glass of cold sweet tea with beads of perspiration dripping down the sides. It was a deliberate slowness allowing us to freeze frame time and see the details and intricacies of the world she created. The description of the marsh and its inhabiting flora and fauna was very detailed, and while some have found the minutiae described here as boring or drab scientific descriptions, I found that the way these things were relayed to us, through Kya’s eyes, was almost magical. The descriptions of the marsh actually helped further our understanding of Kya herself, as one with nature. She wasn’t just an observer, she was part of that world. The marsh was both her religion and her government.
Biology sees right and wrong as the same color in different light.
There is quite a bit of emphasis in this book about the laws of nature, how in nature, justice is swift and impersonal, and as the story develops, we see how the law of nature evolves into a sort of morality for Kya, learned over years spent observing the creatures in her marsh. This is, I think, the most encompassing theme of the book, particularly with how the end of it plays out. But no spoilers, I promise! But we see multiple examples of this with the fireflies and the praying mantises, and it enters her thoughts frequently, comparing the actions and motives of her fellow villagers with other species in the wild.
The dual timeline was well-executed and helped the slow pacing work because of the short bursts of suspense in between chapters that were a slow build. Owens intuitively knew when the we needed a break from the slower pace of the past timeline, so she supplied us with the later timeline and a possible murder of a prominent figure in the town. The brief looks into the investigation of a mysterious death gave us just the right amount of suspense to keep us on point with the rest of Kya’s story, looking for clues as to what happened, whether it was accidental or whether it was murder.
…he knew how the kids had treated her for years; how the villagers called her the Marsh Girl and made up stories about her. Sneaking out to her shack, running through the dark and tagging it, had become a regular tradition, an initiation for boys becoming men. What did that say about men?
This book actually reminded me a little bit of To Kill a Mockingbird – the writing, the Southern setting, the pacing, the court case, the prejudice, but particularly the court case. There was no real evidence of a crime (it was equally possible it was an accidental death instead of murder), nothing tying Kya to the crime at all. The evidence submitted was circumstantial and I was infuriated that not only did a prosecutor take it to trial with such lack of evidence, but they went for murder in the first degree and death penalty. It was mind-blowing, in much of the same way as TKAM’s trial was, in that people could be so prejudiced and hateful that they would make their own version of what happened when a person’s life hung on the verdict. And while my heart wanted to dismiss this as complete fiction, my brain admitted that it happened then, and happens still. Society is still more inclined to punish poverty and do little to end it. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer, as they say.
All in all, I really liked this book. It was thought-provoking and well written, especially considering that this is the author’s debut novel. I would recommend it, and I would love to know what others think about this book.
I hope you found this review helpful. If you have read Where the Crawdads Sing, what did you think?
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The book cover image is credited to https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com