Where the Crawdads Sing
(Delia Owens, 2018, London, Penguin Random House)
This is a gorgeous novel, at once a love letter to nature and a story of survival. Abandoned by her family at a young age and laughed out of school by the other children, Kya is forced to learn how to look after herself in the wilderness, living in a run-down shack on the beach, with only the fish and gulls for company.
She soon attracts a tiny band of friends: Tate, the childhood friend of her brother, and Jumpin’, an old gas salesman, and his wife Mabel. The novel is set in North Carolina from 1952 to 1970, and not only are black and white people segregated, people like Kya, the dirt-poor ‘Marsh People’, are also cast-out, rejected and scorned by the townsfolk. The mysterious death of Chase Andrews, the popular, newly-married, former high school sport star, prompts suspicion to fall upon the outcast Kya, as tales of their illicit romance spread around the town.
The writing of this book is really beautiful: descriptions of Kya running barefoot through the woods, sitting on the sand of her beach and boating through gorgeous lagoons make me want to shed my clothes and shoes and go a-Little-Mermaid-ing. Her ventures through the swamp and forest lead her to surprise presents of feathers from Tate, her devoted friend and tutor. She sketches and paints shells, feathers and the wildlife around her in loving, captivating detail. Watching her learn to read and fall in love with poetry is like a wave of warm water floating across your belly.
I cried a lot reading this book, especially reaching our denouement. The murder trial, the hope for family resolution and the heartfelt, punch-you-in-the-gut, sheer beauty of Kya’s relationships with Tate, Jumpin’ and Mabel are wonderfully drawn together, and Owens keeps the surprises coming until the final page.
It’s no wonder this book has been topping bestseller lists in the US and has been garnering success worldwide. Its combination of murder mystery, coming-of-age romance and rejection, and the deep-felt connection of our human hearts to the vitality of nature around us, makes Where the Crawdads Sing a wonderful bildungsroman for the twenty-first century.