Where the Crawdads Sing is a poetic debut novel set in the mid-century, following the story of Kya Clark. She is the ‘Marsh Girl’, living as a hermit on the fringes of society, and faced with hostility from the people of the town. When the town’s golden boy Chase Andrews is found dead, Kya’s isolated existence is threatened by local suspicion.
The story has a split narrative, interchanging between Kya’s life growing up in the secluded marshlands, and the police investigation into Chase’s murder. As a five-year-old, Kya is abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself. Owens makes the idea of a young girl being completely neglected by society – something that should never happen – somehow believable, weaving in elements of prejudice and classism within the community in the moments when Kya does venture to more populated areas.
The descriptions of how Kya scrapes out an existence for herself reminded me of some of my favourite stories from childhood about children, mostly in wartime, having to find ways to survive without adult assistance. As a kid I loved the idea of fending for myself, living off the land and being resourceful in a way never required within the comforts of the modern world. Although the descriptions of Kya’s early years were appropriately bleak, they re-awakened some of that childhood fantasy in me all the same.
As has been noted by other reviewers, Delia Owens is a professional nature writer and her descriptions of the North Carolina coast and marshlands are exquisite. The writing suffers a little in the dialogue, particularly the cliché-ridden conversations between the two policemen investigating the murder. Personally, I’m not a big fan of being “writing accents” by dropping letters and spelling words the way certain people pronounce them. This was very prominent in the black characters and I found this distracting. And after all, we all have an accent don’t we?
But despite these shortcomings, I found this a deeply compelling narrative. The greatest strength of the novel is in its lyrical description of the marshlands and the girl who is raised by them. There is a twist at the end that I had mixed feelings about, but I am looking forward to watching the television version when it is released.