The debut fictional novel of Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing topped the New York Times Fiction Best Sellers List of 2019, and since its release has received mixed feedback among its readers. The book tells the story of a young girl Kya, known locally as the ‘Marsh Girl’. Abandoned by her mother, her siblings and later her father, Kya grows up alone in the coastal marshes of North Carolina. Although a few of the townsfolk help her where they can, most people keep their distance and look down at her, viewing her as white ‘swamp trash’. A recluse, Kya takes a keen interest in Mother Nature and, against all odds learns not only how to survive thanks to her surroundings, but how to love. But when years later, local golden boy Chase Andrews is found dead, suspicions grow and Kya becomes the prime suspect.
Inspired by Owens’ own background, Where the Crawdads Sing is a coming of age tale and murder mystery all rolled into one. The book follows a dual timeline as we see Kya growing up and learning how to fend for herself, as well as the aftermath of Chase’s death and accusations of foul play. Delia Owens uses her knowledge to great effect and has crafted a beautiful story full of vivid imagery and detailed descriptions. As a result at times you feel as though you’re in the marshes with Kya accompanying her on her journey. Where the Crawdads Sing won’t be to everyone’s taste given the level of detail Owens has included about Kya living in the marshes and the surrounding wildlife, but it is certainly worth persevering. The novel quickly picks up the pace, drawing the reader in and guiding them just as the marsh guides Kya through life. While there may be the odd plot point which doesn’t seem particularly realistic, the book is particularly effective at portraying the racial segregation of the mid-20th century as well as the social class divides of the time – divides which seem all too relevant even in today’s society.
Kya is not your average heroine but thanks to Owens’ depiction you can’t help but warm to her following her turbulent life. Despite one or two clichés, the author has created characters who are all flawed in their own way, but yet you can’t help wanting to know more about them. In Kya Owens has created a unique and believable young woman who’s been let down repeatedly throughout her young life.
Despite one or two contrived plot points, Where the Crawdads Sing is a well-written and engaging read filled with striking imagery and, like all good murder mysteries there’s a clever twist towards the end. A compelling story of loneliness, survival and hope, it’s the perfect read for this dull January. Just don’t make any plans – once you start reading you won’t want to put the book down.
Where the Crawdads Sing is out now.