At the beginning of 2019, I set a goal to read two books per month (24 total for the year). Over Thanksgiving break, I read Where the Crawdags Sing by Delia Owens. Admittedly, I was a bit late to this book. All summer I had seen people reading it on the beach and at airports, but I hadn't thought about picking it up for myself until a friend offered to loan me her copy.
I didn't know a single thing about this book when I started reading it. In fact, it took me over 100 pages before I realized I never even peeked at the author bio inside the book jacket. It was in that moment that I learned this was Delia Owens' first work of fiction. She has a BS in Zoology and a PhD in Animal Behavior. She is the co-author of three non-fiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa. She is also the winner of the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing.
Those credentials explain how and why Where the Crawdags Sing has the most beautiful, descriptive nature writing I've ever read. Owens makes a marsh in North Carolina feel like the most revered and fascinating location on earth.
The story centers around Kya Clark, a young girl abandoned many times over. First by her mother, then her older brother and finally, her father. Kya learns to fend for herself, surviving completely alone in a cabin off the marsh. She befriends a man named Jumpin' who sells boat fuel and other necessities at the dock in town. Jumpin' and his wife Mabel help Kya out in any way they can.
Eventually she opens her heart to a boy name Tate Walker. They bond when Tate offers to teach her how to read. Their relationship brings her a tranquility she hasn't had in years. On page 46, "Alone, she'd been scared, but that was already humming excitement. There was something else, too. The calmness of the boy. She'd never known anybody to speak or move so steady. So sure and easy. Just being near him, and not even that close, had eased her tightness. For the first time since Ma and Jodie left, she breathed without pain; felt something other than the hurt. She needed this boat and that boy."
Kya and Tate's relationship is my favorite element of the book. I don't want to give away too much, but I will say - if this were to become a movie, the Kya / Tate relationship will be the heartbeat of the film. I've already been having so much fun imagining who they would cast!
Where things get very interesting is in the second half of the book, when Kya (always a town outcast) is accused of murdering the golden boy, Chase Andrews. Chase was the quintessential high school star - charming, football player, perky blond girlfriend. Unbeknownst to his adoring parents, Chase had begun a relationship with Kya, visiting her often at her cabin.
On the morning Chase's body is found, the police begin an investigation that leads them to Kya's door. What follows is a murder trial and a torturous time for Kya in prison, wondering how she will survive if she's permanently separated from the marsh - her one true love.
I refuse to give away the ending, but let's just say, it's shocking! There are several reveals that happen in the final 10 pages.
I was beyond impressed with Delia Owens. You would never know this was her first work of fiction because it's masterful. It has a deep sense of place, complicated characters and a plot that continues to reel you in.
In addition to the primary story, she also wrote all of the poems that appear throughout the book. In that way, this book reminded me a bit of Daisy Jones & The Six, where author Taylor Jenkins Reid wrote all the songs lyrics for the band at the center of the story.
I cannot recommend Where the Crawdags Sing enough. Pick it up for yourself or give it as a holiday gift to a fellow bookworm!