Book review and synopsis for Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, a coming-of-age crime drama about a girl growing up alone in the marshes of North Carolina.
In Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya is known in her town as the "Marsh Girl." She grows up in a shack out in the marshes bordering a small village on the coast of North Carolina. Her mother and her four older siblings all leave to get away from their abusive father, leaving her behind to fend for herself. Eventually, her father disappears as well.
Where the Crawdads Sing is part bildungsroman and part crime drama, centered around Kya, a wild and unkempt girl. The book follows the ups and downs of her life. She lives a lonely life, but her story is a hopeful one as well. With a little help, she's able to survive and even learn to read.
Despite her status as an outcast, her natural beauty catches the eye of two men in town. However, when the body of Chase Andrews, the local hotshot, is discovered in the marshes, she quickly becomes a prime suspect. The fragile life she has struggled and fought so hard to build is at risk.
The Prologue opens with the discovery of the body of Chase Andrews in a swamp in 1969.
In Part I, Kya Clark grows up with her abusive father in a shack in the swampy outskirts of town in the 1950's (her mother and siblings all leave due because of Pa's abuse). Kya meets Tate, a boy from town that befriends her. When Kya is 10, Pa disappears (a couple nearby, Jumpin' and Mabel, help Kya to survive). As she grows up, Kya develops a keen knowledge of the outdoors. Kya and Tate reconnect, he teaches her to read, and it grows into a romance. When Tate leaves for college, he promises to come back, but later Tate worries that Kya (wild and unkempt) can't fit into his world. He doesn't return, and Kya gives up on him.
(Flash forward) Many years later, the body of Chase Andrews, the town hotshot and ladies' man, is found in the swamp at the bottom of the fire tower. An investigation starts up.
In Part II, Kya is now 19. Chase Andrews has been pursuing Kya aggressively, and she finally gives in to his advances. One day, Chase takes her to the fire tower, and she gives him a shell necklace as a gift. He promises to marry her, but Kya soon discovers that Chase is actually engaged to someone else. She dumps him. Meanwhile, Tate comes back and apologizes for what happened. He also wants to help Kya turn her nature diagrams into a book. Eventually, Kya's book is published in 1968.
In 1969, Kya is identified as a suspect in the Chase Andrews murder. Notably, Chase's shell necklace that he always wore was not found on his body. Eventually, Kya is arrested for Chase's death. The trial proceeds (reviewing evidence such as the missing necklace, fibers found on Chase's body, Kya's whereabouts, plus Chase had attacked Kya after being rebuffed two months before his death). But Kya is found not guilty, and she and Tate profess their love for each other.
Time passes, and Kya and Tate turn her shack into a nice cottage and remain there. Kya passes away at 64. Tate goes through her things and discovers evidence (in the form of a poem Kya wrote under a pseudonym and notably Chase's shell necklace) that Kya killed Chase. The book ends with Tate destroying the poems and tossing the necklace into the ocean.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens opens with a picture of a map and the discovery of a dead body in the marshes of North Carolina.
I was intrigued immediately when I saw it in the bookstore, though I put off reading it for a while. Ultimately, though, my curiosity won out as it hung in the bestseller lists, and I’m very glad it did.
Where the Crawdads Sing is about resiliency and survival, but also alienation. I loved the part about Kya’s childhood; it made for a unique story line as Kya learns to navigate the world on her own. The story focuses thematically a lot on her status as an outcast and sense of abandonment, as she is forced to fend for herself. In terms of pacing, it is eventful and mostly fast-moving.
Kya’s story has elements of romance, mystery and even a courtroom thriller interlude. Nature enthusiasts will also enjoy this book, as Kya’s love of the nature around her is conveyed through detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna, a reflection of the author’s background as a former wildlife scientist.
The compelling imagery is descriptive in the right places and sparse when it serves the story better instead. The book has a strong sense of place, transporting you to a different life where you can smell the salty air and sink your feet into the muddy grounds outside the seaside village.
Meanwhile, the discovery of a dead body leads to the Chase Andrews investigation that provides the suspense in the story. Kya’s story is also interspersed with flash-forwards detailing the progress of the investigation. I found this worked well, adding an element of mystery, since it’s not clear how it will play out for Kya or what exactly happened that night. There’s compelling evidence on both sides and the pacing of the investigation is spot-on, making for pleasurable and suspenseful reading.
As she heads into her teenage years, the romantic storylines start kicking in, and the melodrama starts ramping up as well. My enthusiasm waned a little bit at this point. The book is increasingly divorced from reality (the idea that a teenage boy would teach her not only to read but about her period seemed far-fetched, and it goes on from there) and plot events get a bit contrived.
Additionally, Kya’s internal journey, her mentally processing the events of her life, felt a little surface level. She struggles with being abandoned by her mother, and the book brings in interesting parallels to nature, but beyond that, events simply happen without much reflection. It felt like there were a number of missed opportunity for it to be a more insightful book.
But, for whatever criticisms I had while reading, the story easily won me over. As it approaches the date of the crime and the investigation ramps up, I was totally engrossed.
Read it or Skip It?
I read this book quickly and found myself delighted by it by the end. The book is more melodrama than a serious literary novel, but is such an engaging story that it’s easy to accept. It’s part romance, mystery, courtroom drama and ode to nature, all of which make for an appealing tale about the town outcast.
The setting is a distinctive “slice-of-life” that’s commonplace, yet not often portrayed clearly in books or movies. It is vividly drawn in a way that infuses the story with energy, a credit to Owen’s genuine love and respect for nature.
Where the Crawdads Sing has been very popular among book clubs, and deservedly so. It’s eventful and accessible, but thoughtfully written, all of which make it a good choice for readers of varying tastes. See it on Amazon or Book Depository.
Highly Recommended Published August 14, 2018
Page Count 384 pages
Goodreads4.41 (out of 5)
From the Publisher
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.
well crafted review
Fantastic review! I’ve been wondering about this one and I think I’ll check it out :)
Thank you! Glad to hear it, and I hope you like it if you end up getting a chance to read it! :)
This sounds like a book I might enjoy, tossing another one on the TBR!
That’s awesome to hear, thanks for letting me know and thanks for reading!
What a beautifully written, helpfully compartmentalised review! Feeling very inspired. Sounds like an engaging read too x
Thank you so much and thanks for reading!
Wonderful, thorough review. You don’t see a lot of coming-of-age murder mysteries. I’m putting this on my TBR list. Thanks for the post.
Hey Rosi! Yes, I liked that it felt like a unique book and story, both in terms of the setting and the plot. Definitely not cookie cutter. Hope you love it if you get a chance to read it — it goes by quickly! Nice to hear from you as always, and cheers! :)
Jennifer, you are one of the best writers I have seen. I read your reviews because I love the way you talk about books. Your honesty is much appreciated and gives me insight into titles I may otherwise never pick up.
Hey Jen, that’s such a kind thing for you to say. I really appreciate your feedback and that you take the time to read my reviews! My goal in writing this blog has always been to help books find the right readers, so thank you for saying that. I genuinely value your encouragement, thanks again! :)
Nicely done review.
Hi Martie! Thank you very much and nice to hear from you again! :)
Melodrama irritates me, but the synopsis sounds so good that I need to read it. This book is high on my priority list. I’m happy it’s good. Great review!
Honestly, it bothered me a little at first, but I think there’s a lot of wonderful but unrealistic stories out there. If it didn’t all add up to something solid and interesting it would have bothered me more, but I think it came together in a way that made me feel like it was worth overlooking. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did if you get a chance to read it! :)
You’ve motivated me to put this book on my TBR!
Thank you for reading and visiting! Hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it!
I’ve been interested in this one but a bit wary since I really didn’t like the other Reese’s Book Club pick I’ve read. Glad you enjoyed it. Your review definitely makes it likely I’ll give it a go after all.
Hey, that’s great to hear — yeah I mean I guess she picks out one new-ish book a month which is actually kind of a lot so I suppose they can’t all be winners. I think this one is definitely one of her better recs though, hope you like it!
Beautiful review of a beautiful book! I enjoyed this, too. It took some patience with all that description, but in the end, it worked to create that sense of place you described.
Thank you for reading! I usually don’t have a ton of patience for unnecessary description (I’m always a little wary of books that are described by reviewers as “lyrical” since sometimes that translates into lots of lengthy descriptive passages) but I thought Owens did a good job of balancing out creating atmosphere and moving the plot forward — thanks for dropping by! :)
Sounds like an interesting book – even with the negative parts.
I really enjoyed it, thanks for reading! :)
wow, you give thorough reviews…
haha what can I say, I love talking about books! :)
too bad, my genre doesn’t fit… have a wonderful weekend
Good to know that this is more melodrama than a serious literary novel. I do like the sound of this slice of life book. Great review!
Thank you and thanks for reading! :)
Thanks for the balanced review! Will consider picking this up.
Glad to hear that, and thanks for reading!
I thought the book was wonderful. I loved all of it. It had a perfect ending.
glad to hear it — yeah I was really impressed by the ending as well! thanks for dropping by!
I will definitely have to pick this one up. You make it sound compelling. Thanks for the post.
Very interesting review. I’ve been split on a lot of her book club picks but I have noticed that almost all of them she has the movie rights for which makes me a little cynical about her choices in some cases :)
yeah, I can understand that. On one hand, I’m glad that the adaptations are giving authors a way to make some big dollars. On the other hand, it is kind of annoying when I read books that seem to be written in a way that feels like the’re prepackaged for hollywood though. So I have mixed feelings.
Please read my first post
Please read my first post
I subscribed to your blog just now because you had such a thorough review of this book. I am about halfway through the book at this point, and while I have enjoyed it, I have found, as you, there were missed opportunities for more development in some areas, and some events which seemed unreasonable. Overall, I am enjoying the book. Great job! I look forward to reading more of your reviews!
Hi Sandra, thank you so much for the thoughtful comment! Much appreciated. Thanks for reading! Even with those criticisms, I’m glad I read it. I hope you enjoy the rest of it as well!
I’ve read 33 novels so far in 2019 and this is my favorite. Loved it!
NIcely written review.
Terrific. Will help at my book club. Ty.
Thanks for the review. I am yet to read this one!
Thanks so much. I appreciate you time to share.
The focus on nature was refreshing in contrast to the sadness of Kya literally raising herself. Changing back and forth with the time frame was a bit distracting
as was the poetry inserted here and there ( not especially good poetry) but as you near the end that is explained. I was more impressed with how Kya, in school just a day, could educate herself enough to write books about the plants and critters living in the marsh and become a well respected author. Then the trial about who killed the jerk Chase Andrews with a surprising end when she is found not guilty. Kya goes on to live a happy life with her original friend and first love Tate, but in the end he discovers she really did kill Chase. There were some positive things in her life but such a disfunctional family and so much hatred from most of the townspeople offset the real beauty of the marsh .
Consider listening to it. The reader’s soft. N. Carolina accent lends an authenticity to the flora and fauna descriptions.
This is the most balanced review I’ve read yet of this book. It sounds like it goes a bit off the rails but is overall worth the read. Thanks for the post!
Not great literature at all. Just a story. Delia needs to read more of the best HEMINGWAY, STEINBECK, CATHER and the other great authors to learn symbolism, conflict and the art of not telling but showing.
My feelings about the character Kya are that she really could be cast as a Native American. She has the instincts and abilities of a Native American woman. Reese Witherspoon and Delia Owens, maybe you can consider this as a facet of the character.
I am looking for some good solid books for my avid pre teen reader. Do think the scope of details would be ok for someone that young?
Hmmm, I think it’s a little iffy. There’s definitely talk about sex, sexual desires and at one point one of the characters gets kind of aggressive about it.
Great start but then descended into a melodrama with an eye on the prize of a television or film adaptation. It was so obvious and disappointing. Unconvincing after the very promising first chapters onwards. The premise was unlikely and my interest waned when the story turned into a murder mystery. It was obvious that Kya killed Chase. Who else would bother?
Thank you for an excellent review. Loved the book but also felt it dragged at points. The Ode to Nature and the child that nature nourished when people failed was spell-binding.
I think it was proven that there was no time for Kya to kill Chase
Did Kaya have her own children with Tate or were they just a flashback of her childhood
I hope the movie stands up. I remember waiting with great anticipation for “the Prince of tides” movie to come out and feared it would digress from the book. I was delighted to be wrong.
I loved this book but have struggled to understand the absence of Chase’s wife in the courtroom. Why isn’t she there to support justice for her husband, staring down Kya and acting bereaved?And why did she allow her husband to wear a necklace every day of his life, fashioned for him by another woman? Why wasn’t she a suspect in her husband’s murder, given that jealousy and vengeance could have been her motive? She had as much reason as Kya to hate Chase and to remove the all-significant necklace. Anyone else agree?
I believe author wants reader to know who killed chase from early on. The phrase where the crawdads sings , essentially speaks to how nature will always try to ensure continuation of species. She was raised by nature.the references to female fire flies and praying mantis who kill males to continue survival of future generations. The mother fox who is injured who leaves her kits to die,so she can come day have future litters. Biggest disappointment in story line was that ” Tate” was not aware kya killed chase. She only received red hat after he attempted to rape her. It could only have been Tate or kya.
I found the book to be a quick read, and suspenseful until the last page. The characters were realistic and each one was well developed.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful review!!! this helps me to determine whether or not to read the book :) the movie was fantastic!