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.
Unless you have been living under a literary rock for the past few months, I’m sure you have heard of this book. You’ve probably already read it, as I seem to be a little late to the party but, if not, I suggest you pick up a copy as soon as possible because this is one of the best things I have read for a long while and will definitely be one of my top books of 2020.
This is the story of Kya, a young girl abandoned at a young age in the marshes of North Carolina who learns how to survive on her own by studying the wildlife that surrounds her on all sides. Her life is touched by a few souls from the nearby town, but largely she is an outcast, misunderstood and feared by local residents so, when a local man is murdered in the marsh, she is the prime suspect.
This book is a masterpiece in so many ways. It begins as a mystery story with the body of the man discovered in the marsh, so we are immediately engrossed in trying to discover, along with the local police, who is responsible. In this way we are introduced to Kya, the ‘Marsh Girl,’ an outsider who has lived alone in the marsh since she was a child and who is deeply misunderstood by the local townsfolk. The book then runs along two timelines, the current investigation of the murder, and Kya’s past as she grows up in the marsh. The mystery is compelling and involves many twists and turns and false paths, so the reader can’t really know who did it until the very end. However, despite the fact the mystery is well-developed, this is probably the aspect of the novel that drew me the least.
The things that make this book so special are the exploration of Kya as a character and how she survives alone in the marsh from childhood and how this life affects her emotionally, and the vivid and immersive descriptions of the landscape and nature of the marsh where the book is set. The author writes so captivatingly and movingly about both that the reader cannot help but be swept away in the story.
The development of Kya’s story from her abandonment by her entire family as a young child and how she has to learn to survive alone in a hostile environment with very little contact with or help from her nearest neighbours is tender, believable and completely heart-breaking. It is a damning commentary on the way society frowns upon anyone who chooses to live a lifestyle outside the mainstream and how such choices invite disdain and a cold-shoulder. How people are largely concerned only with themselves and quick to ignore problems they don’t want to address. The only people who have the good heart to help Kya are others who are similarly shunned for their differences, or who want to use her for their own ends.
Kya is a fascinating and wholly endearing character. Her stalwart determination to survive alone, learning from the creatures that surround her, adapting their habits and survival skills to help her and, in doing so, falling in love with the life and creatures of the marsh and studying them in a way few people ever do. The way the author draws parallels between humans and the wildlife of the marsh and uses those parallels to inform the reader about both is deft and clever. We fall in love with both Kya and her delicate and unique environment and come to care deeply about the survival and protection of both by the end of the book.
The marsh, then, is an integral part of the book, as essential to the story as any of the characters. In fact, it becomes a character in its own right, as intricately described and developed as any of the human participants, a living, breathing organism that is vital to Kya’s happiness and well-being in a way no human has ever been. It is the one thing she loves, trusts and knows will never let her down. Their lives are so intertwined that, when she is forcibly separated from it, it feels like a form of death to her. Like removing a fish from the ocean, she feels like she cannot breathe. If you ever wanted to read a book that really transports you to an environment you have probably never experienced but into which you will completely disappear, this is the novel for you.
The writer’s prose is lyrical and flowing. I know some people have found the book a little slow, and it is true that is is very descriptive and languid, but this is a huge part of the beauty of the novel and, if you stick with it, I am sure you will find the whole story as beautiful, heart-rending but, ultimately, uplifting as I did. The languorous nature of the prose is entirely fitting to the plot and the setting, mirroring the slow, warm, unchanging days in the Carolinas and will envelope you in the mindset if you let it. Just kick back and go with the flow and let this exceptional novel float you on a magical journey that will leave you fundamentally affected by it.
Where The Crawdads Sing is out now in all formats here.
About the Author
Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa including Cry of the Kalahari.
She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and many others.
She currently lives in Idaho. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.
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Facebook: Author Delia Owens