BOOK OF THE DAY
Where the Crawdads Sing
By Delia Owens
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: August 2018
Where the Crawdads Sing
Review by Sharon Marchisello
Delia Owens hit the New York Times bestseller list with her haunting debut novel, Where the Crawdads Sing. It features a murder, a mystery, and courtroom drama, but more importantly, it’s the story of a young woman forsaken by society, left to raise herself in a North Carolina coastal marsh.
The narrative alternates between 1969, when the body is discovered, and flashbacks starting in 1952, to the early life of the woman accused of killing the victim.
Catherine Clark, a.k.a., Kya, the Marsh Girl, didn’t realize her family was poor; life in a shack without electricity on reclaimed marshland is all she’s known. Then her mother leaves. Despite having five children who need her, Ma can no longer tolerate life with an abusive, alcoholic husband. One by one, Kya’s three oldest siblings leave. Kya can’t even remember their names, or what they look like. Then Jodie, the brother closest to her, who taught her many secrets of the marsh, decides he can no longer live in the same house with Pa. For a while, Kya is able to coexist with her father, to learn from him when he’s sober, and hide from him when he’s intoxicated. Eventually, he abandons her too, but at least he leaves his boat behind, after teaching Kya to operate it.
A truant officer visits the shack and persuades Kya to go into town to attend school. She lasts only one day, when she is so humiliated by the other students, she vows never to return. Despite more visits from truant officers, she eludes them by hiding in the marsh whenever they come looking for her.
Then Kya meets Tate, a friend of her brother Jodie, who shares her fascination with and keen observation of nature. He teaches her to read and write. He’s her first love. But then he, too, leaves her behind when he’s accepted into college.
Lonely, Kya takes up with Chase Andrews, a popular town boy who’s bewitched by Kya’s mystique. Although he promises her marriage and a normal life in society, he really wants to compartmentalize their relationship. Kya finds out by reading the newspaper that Chase is engaged to someone else.
Years go by. Tate returns and, impressed with Kya’s collecting and detailed documenting of marsh specimens, encourages her to write guide books about the natural world she knows so thoroughly. Although she won’t let him back into her life, she does accept his help in finding a publisher for her work. As a result, life becomes easier for her financially.
The highlight of the story is the suspicious death of Chase Andrews, who tumbles from a fire tower in the marsh. Kya is the prime suspect, and her trial emphasizes the isolation from the community that has been imposed on her during her entire life.
Like Kya, Delia Owens is a wildlife scientist, and her appreciation for nature is apparent in this beautifully written novel. Delia and her husband Mark spent many years researching endangered species and working on conservation projects in Africa. Before delving into fiction, she published three internationally bestselling nonfiction books that resulted from their studies. She currently lives in Idaho.
Sharon Marchisello (sharonmarchisello.com) is the author of Going Home, (Sunbury Press, 2014) a murder mystery inspired by her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and a nonfiction book about personal finance, Live Well, Grow Wealth. One of her short stories was recently published in an anthology, Shhhh… Murder! (Darkhouse Books, 2018). She earned a Masters in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and is a member of the Atlanta chapter of Sisters in Crime.