An isolated, abandoned girl, a judgmental town and era, and a suspicious death that is actually a murder in the marshes of North Carolina. What’s not to love in this month’s book club pick?
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens has been praised by book clubs and readers alike since it debuted in February 2017.
I admit that I held out on reading this book. The cover didn’t really draw me in, and book covers and appearances are a huge part of the appeal to me. Am I the only one? But I added it to our book club lineup, and I was pleasantly surprised with how I enjoyed the story.
We begin in North Carolina in 1969 with a dead body underneath a crumbling and abandoned fire tower in the marshes. It is identified as Chase Andrews, a local young man from a prominent family. Although there appears to be no evidence of another person, his death is suspicious and soon ruled as a homicide.
The book moves back and forth between the 1950s and beyond. It focuses on Kya, a young girl who lives with her family in a ramshackle structure in the marsh. We read as her mother leaves the family when Kya is only 6-years-old, fleeing her abusive and alcoholic husband, Pa. Soon after, her other siblings leave as well. It is especially hard when her 12-year-old brother Jodie leaves. Kya is alone with her father, living away from the rest of the town and isolated from normal daily life like school and community events.
Life is hard on the marsh for many reasons.
Kya is basically raising herself; her father is frequently gone and leaves her a pittance of coins to buy her own food. She walks miles into town, shunned and chastised for her “Marsh Girl” appearance and status, but she makes do. There is a brief period where Kya and Pa get along well. They fish together, and he introduces her to Jumpin’, a Black man who owns a gas station on the marsh. But Pa disappears when Kya is 10-years-old, and she survives on her own from then on.
She earns money by fishing and selling mussels to Jumpin’. He and his wife also give Kya clothing donations and purchase many of her catches to help support her without offending her pride. She is once caught and sent to school by the truancy official, but that is the only day of school she ever attends. Kya is a strong, independent, but lonely girl surviving our in the marshes.
One day, she finds a few special feathers waiting for her on a stump.
Wondering who could have left them, 14-year-old Kya leaves a feather of her own. This continues for a bit until she realizes that it is Tate Walker, a friend of Jodie’s and another admirer of the marsh. He gains Kya’s trust and teaches her how to read. They develop a friendship and then a romantic relationship. Tate brings her books, they explore the marsh, and they love one another.
But when Tate leaves for college, he promises to return on 4th of July to see Kya. He does not show up. This is devastating for Kya. She has been abandoned over and over again in her short life. She trusted another person and feels betrayed.
A few years pass, and Chase Andrews finds Kya on the beach.
He woos her, showing interest in her growing collection of marsh life and specimens and taking her picnic lunches. She falls for him, with his promises of a life together. The entire town treats her poorly and as an outcast. People who live in the marsh are considered “trash” or beneath the rest of the town. But Chase promises her a life with the people, a life of acceptance. Unfortunately, she is similarly devastated to learn that Chase has married another woman.
Kya is resilient though, and she survives this heartache. Until Chase ends up dead. Now, Kya is the suspect of his murder, and the entire town is judging the “Marsh Girl” simply on their preconceived ideas of her, not who she actually is.
To find out what happens to Kya and if she is found guilty (or is guilty), you’ll have to read Where the Crawdads Sing for yourself. We enjoyed this story of intrigue, spirit, and imagery. You often feel you are in the marsh with Kya; Owens uses descriptive imagery and metaphors to truly immerse the reader.