Thank goodness it’s a snow day because I stayed up late last night finishing up “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and I need a nap. This book is crazy popular right now and I was actually lucky enough to snag a copy from the library’s “Lucky Day” shelf last week.
So first things first, Where the Crawdads Sing has over 37,000 reviews on Amazon right now, with about 87% of those being 5 stars. I’ve honestly never seen a book have so many reviews. It’s just incredible.
*I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but with 37,000 reviews and a full Wikipedia synopsis of this book, I’m not sure what’s spoiler and what isn’t for this book.*
Set somewhere in the marshes of the North Carolina coast, the novel weaves together the story of the young beautiful feral marsh girl, Kya, with the suspected murder of the town’s golden boy, Chase. As Owens takes readers through history and into the marsh, the chapters flash back and forth across the years of 1952-1969, eventually catching up to each other in 1969-1970. The use of short chapters and flashing back and forth in time was well done. Unlike Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Owens was able to maintain her momentum and storytelling with ease throughout the entire novel.
The book is full of rich descriptions of the natural world and it’s no surprise that Owens is actually a zoologist. While I enjoyed reading about the mashes’s flora and fauna and the incredibly world Owens creates in the marsh, it eventually burned me out and I wish there had been more editing to cull down the descriptions a bit.
The entire plot of Where the Crawdads Sing is set upon Kya’s abandonment, first by her mother who leaves six year old Kya and her four older siblings in the marsh shack with an abusive drunken father. Her mother’s departure is followed by a slow trickling of abandonment by the four older siblings who vanish down the road without a trace until seven year old Kya is left alone with a man she fears and can’t count on to provide food or stability. After a truce of sorts in which her father teachers her to fish and boat, he too disappears, leaving Kya to fend for herself in a shack in the middle of nowhere with no food and no money.
Depending on the skills taught by an older brother and her father, Kya survives alone for almost 17 years, a feral child living in the marsh surfacing only for meager supplies and gas for her boat. Kya’s vulnerability draws readers in, the rich natural descriptions of the coast blending with the loneliness and heartbreak of a little girl left completely alone in the world. Flashes of racism and prejudice flicker heavily across the pages and I couldn’t help but think that everyone in Barkley Cove comes across as a coward, an asshole or both.
In the midst of Kya’s desperate bid to survive, two local boys find Chase Andrews, the town’s hero, dead in the marsh. The town searches desperately for a cause of death and eventually lands on a suspected murder.
Without spoilers, I found Where the Crawdads Sing to be a quick and easy read. The story drew me in but left me wanting more rooted in reality. I couldn’t get past an entire town knowingly and willingly leaving a little girl to survive out in the marsh alone for years. I couldn’t get past older siblings knowingly and willingly leaving a little sister alone with a drunk abusive father. I couldn’t get past the long list of skills that a six or seven year old would need to survive alone without food, running water or electricity in a North Carolina marsh.
I couldn’t get past Kya’s prodigal art talent or her seemingly instantaneous ability to read after 14 years of illiteracy once someone finally taught her the basics. I couldn’t get past a child not only surviving but thriving on grits, mussels and a few random vegetables for years.
I couldn’t get past the middle-of-nowhere marsh shack being fitted out with plumbing and electricity without any details of how exactly that happened. I couldn’t get past the terrible inconsistent accents. I also hated all of the random poems and over technical explanations tossed into the book to make Kya appear much smarter and more cultured than the town folks.
I couldn’t get past the characters suddenly and shockingly changing character in ways that just did not make sense.
For all of my wanting to accept the story, I could not get past the absurdity of the trial or the eventual revelation of who killed Chase Andrews.
Overall, most of this book just felt too implausible. Where the Crawdads Sing started out beautifully but left me reaching too far from reality to feel grounded in the story and too far removed from characters that seemed to flip personalities seemingly instantaneously. This one rings somewhere around 3 stars. Beautiful written. Stupid plot.
Until next time, happy reading!