Where the Crawdads Sing is an extraordinary book in many different ways. It is the story of Kya Clark, a feral child, abandoned by her whole family and left to fend for herself in the marshlands of North Carolina.
It opens with a prologue, brief, descriptive and telling of the mysterious death of Chase Andrews in 1969. Then, the first chapter goes back in time several years to the day where Kya’s life changes forever. Her mother leaves home and Kya is left behind with just her brother, Jodie, and her Pa, an alcoholic whose abusive behaviour has driven away all the family one by one. When Jodie goes and then her father disappears Kya has no-one and becomes an expert at fending for herself. She’s supported by Jumpin’, a local trader, and his wife Mabel who realise her predicament.
The story swings between the 1950s and 1970 when Kya is accused of murdering Chase Andrews. Known locally as the Marsh Girl she becomes an object of suspicion by the local community and brought to trial, despite little evidence against her.
Both strands unfold in a gradual way with Kya’s life and her growing friendship, and then love for, Tate playing a significant part of the story. They share a respect and knowledge of the life in the marshlands and with Tate she explores her growing awareness of her body. But Chase Andrews also plays a part. When Tate leaves for university she feels abandoned again and eager for human contact. Chase provides that contact but deceives her until she is left feeling more alone than ever before.
The most outstanding quality of this novel is the descriptive element. The language is evocative, drawing the reader into Kya’s world. One is transported to the marshland and its unique atmosphere by an outstanding use of language.
Themes in the novel are as relevant today as in the decades in the 1950s to 1970s when the story is set. It examines how society treats those who are different, including people of colour, how education is accessed, and how prejudice can affect judgement. The ecology of the environment and the need for conservation and understanding is also important.
The cover states that over five million copies of this novel have sold worldwide. It’s easy to see why.
Delia Owens’ debut novel Where the Crawdads Sing is published by Corsair.