Summary and book reviews of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens X
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
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  • Published:
    Aug 2018, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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Book Summary

Winner of the 2018 BookBrowse Debut Novel Award

How long can you protect your heart?

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.

1.
Ma
1952

The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh's moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog. The palmetto patches stood unusually quiet except for the low, slow flap of the heron's wings lifting from the lagoon. And then, Kya, only six at the time, heard the screen door slap. Standing on the stool, she stopped scrubbing grits from the pot and lowered it into the basin of worn-out suds. No sounds now but her own breathing. Who had left the shack? Not Ma. She never let the door slam.

But when Kya ran to the porch, she saw her mother in a long brown skirt, kick pleats nipping at her ankles, as she walked down the sandy lane in high heels. The stubby-nosed shoes were fake alligator skin. Her only going-out pair. Kya wanted to holler out but knew not to rouse Pa, so opened the door and stood on the brick-'n'-board steps. From there she saw the blue train case Ma carried. Usually, with the confidence of a pup, Kya knew her mother would return with meat wrapped in greasy brown paper ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The North Carolina marsh where Kya lives has long been a sanctuary for outsiders. How does this setting shape the novel? How does growing up in this isolation affect Kya? In what ways does her status as an “outsider” change how others see her?
  2. Why does Kya choose not to go back to school? Do you think she makes the wrong decision? How does Kya’s lack of formal education shape her vision of the world? Would her character be different if she had gone to school?
  3. After Jodie and Pa leave Kya alone, she becomes close to Jumpin’ and Mabel. Why are these two adults drawn to Kya? What do they teach her about the world? Do you agree with Jumpin’s decision to protect Kya from social services (p. 110) and to encourage...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2018

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Although the novel focuses on the years between 1965 and 1970, it encompasses the whole span of Kya’s life. At times I found it hard to believe that the plucky urchin living off of grits and evading truant officers is the same character as the willowy nature writer wondering who will love her and never leave. Also, the chronology becomes slightly difficult to follow as it approaches 1969...The use of animal behavior metaphors works very well, though. Kya understands her fellow humans by analogy, asking why a mother animal might leave her cubs or why males compete for female attention. The title refers to places where wild creatures do what comes naturally, and throughout the book we are invited to ponder how instinct and altruism interact and what impact human actions can have in the grand scheme of things... In Kya, Owens has created a truly outstanding character. The extremity of her loneliness makes her a sympathetic figure in spite of her oddities. If you like the idea of a literary novel flavored with elements of mystery and romance, and of a poetic writing style tempered with folksy Southern dialect, Crawdads is a real treat.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (776 words).

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Media Reviews

New York Times
The wildlife scientist Delia Owens has found her voice in Where the Crawdads Sing, a painfully beautiful first novel that is at once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature. The author, with her husband, Mark, of three books about southern Africa, Owens here surveys the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast through the eyes of an abandoned child. And in her isolation that child makes us open our own eyes to the secret wonders — and dangers — of her private world.

New York Journal of Books
Owens’ writing is tight, yet sumptuous. It is abundant with descriptive prose and brings the reader straight to the edges of the briny marsh waters, and directly into the mind of the Marsh Girl. Reading this story is at once a study in the ecological environment as much as it is an exquisite virtual experience to a unique place in our natural world. The conclusion is haunting and unexpected, yet leaves a sense of fulfillment as all well-told stories do.

Historical Novel Society
Kya’s loneliness and heartbreak each time someone abandons her is palpable and heart-wrenching. We feel her yearning to connect with others and to be loved. Owens adeptly alternates plotlines, which creates the anticipation of what is to come. Both Kya and the marsh are the main characters of this immersive and moving story of love and belonging mixed with mystery and suspense. This is a deeply affecting novel, lyrical and unforgettable.

Reese Witherspoon
I can’t even express how much I love this book! My September pick is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It’s about a young woman named Kya, who’s left to raise herself in the marshes of North Carolina when her family abandons her at a young age. There is so much to her story: romance, mystery, and a murder… and it takes place in the breathtaking backdrop of the South. I didn’t want this story to end!

Publishers Weekly
Owens memorably depicts the small-town drama and courtroom theatrics, but perhaps best of all is her vivid portrayal of the singular North Carolina setting.

Kirkus Reviews
Despite some distractions, there's an irresistible charm to Owens' first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Booklist
Because the characters are painted in broad, unambiguous strokes, this is not so much a naturalistic novel as a mythic one, with its appeal rising from Kya's deep connection to the place where she makes her home, and to all of its creatures.

Author Blurb Alexandra Fuller, author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
A lush debut; Owens delivers her mystery wrapped in gorgeous, lyrical prose.

Author Blurb Christopher Scotton, author of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
With prose luminous as a low-country moon, Owens weaves a compelling tale of a forgotten girl in the unforgiving coastal marshes of North Carolina. It is a murder mystery/love story/courtroom drama that readers will love, but the novel delves so much deeper into the bone and sinew of our very nature, asking often unanswerable questions, old and intractable as the marsh itself. A stunning debut!

Author Blurb David Joy, author of The Line That Held Us
Where The Crawdads Sing carries the rhythm of an old time ballad. It is clear Owens knows this land intimately, from the black mud sucking at footsteps to the taste of saltwater and the cry of seagulls.

Reader Reviews

Sandi W.

The author gives you the visual, the characters give you the familiarity
Seldom does a book leave you with a warm and completed feeling. Especially one revealing a murderer in its closing paragraphs. But this is the book that managed to do just that. Delia Owens introduces you to a wonderful list of characters. Then ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Nature Writers Who Also Write Fiction

Nature WritersBefore she wrote Where the Crawdads Sing, Idaho-based Delia Owens co-authored three nature books (with her former husband, Mark Owens) based on wildlife research in Africa: Cry of the Kalahari (1984), which won the John Burroughs Medal for natural history writing, The Eye of the Elephant (1992), and Secrets of the Savanna (2006). She's not the only author who has turned to fiction after a long career in science or nature writing. Others have alternated between the two genres throughout their working life. Here are four more authors who have had similar cross-genre success.

Edward AbbeyEdward Abbey (1927‒1989) mostly wrote about the American West. He studied English and philosophy at the University of New Mexico. In 1957 he was a Wallace ...

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