For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.
But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.
In Where the Crawdads Sing, Owens juxtaposes an exquisite ode to the natural world against a profound coming of age story and haunting mystery. Thought-provoking, wise, and deeply moving, Owens’s debut novel reminds us that we are forever shaped by the child within us, while also subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
The story asks how isolation influences the behavior of a young woman, who like all of us, has the genetic propensity to belong to a group. The clues to the mystery are brushed into the lush habitat and natural histories of its wild creatures.
Though I’m generally an emotional reader, its not often that I read a book that makes me really ugly-cry. Both a coming-of-age and a murder mystery, it pulls you in and keeps you invested in a way that few books seem to do, breaking your heart and keeping you guessing until the very end.
One of the most prominent threads of this story is the theme of loneliness and the effects it has on our development, even once we reach adulthood. Left by the only people she’s ever loved, Kya eventually finds herself utterly alone before the age of ten, raising herself in a small patch of marsh. Wildly intelligent and resourceful, she has to learn how to survive on her own in the wild, untouched wetlands. In learning how to get along as best she can, Kya also finds that family isn’t always those you’re related to, but rather the people who quietly look after you as best they can. Though guarded and determined to live on her own, Kya does eventually form relationships, and like the rest of us, she has to learn to navigate those relationships and decide if they are beneficial or not. It’s definitely a story of found family, of finding belonging when and where you least expect it.
She attends only one day of school before deciding that the prejudices she faces from those in town are too much, but her education is far from over. With the help of a good friend and sheer determination, Kya quickly becomes an expert on all things marsh. The author not only develops Kya’s expertise in a wholly real and believable manner, but also gives us a beautiful ode to nature and all things wild. Owens waxes poetic about seemingly ordinary, often overlooked natural phenomenon, such as the beauty of maple tree seeds filling the fall air or the daily habits of the seabirds that Kya feeds.
While we are watching Kya grow and change and fall in love with the marsh, we’re also trying to solve the murder mystery that is so awesomely entwined. A young man from a prominent family in town dies under mysterious circumstances and has a mysterious connection to our outcast protagonist. From the jump, Kya is a main suspect and is even put on trial by the end of the book, though we see that the townspeople don’t really care about giving her a good and fair trial. After years of thinking (and saying) terrible things about, and to, Kya, we as readers realize that the odds are not in her favor, whether she’s actually committed the crime or not.
If you couldn’t already tell, I’m deeply in love with this book. I finished this book over 24 hours ago and my mind is still wrapped up in all the what-if, why-not scenarios. But I should warn you again: if you do heed my recommendation, be prepared to tear up on multiple occasions and have tissues ready for the end. Its poignant, triumphant, and deeply effected me, but it was so worth the heartbreak.
“Lot of times love doesn’t work out. Yet even when it fails, it connects you to others and, in the end, that is all you have, the connections.”