This novel caught my eye on bookstagram a few weeks ago, and so I checked NetGalley to see if it was available, and put in my request. I lucked out, and Penguin Group Putnam/Putnam Books accepted! So I want to start with a big thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Let me tell you, this novel grabbed my heart from the start and has yet to let go. Owens introduces her readers to young Kya Clark, whose mother left her at age six, whose siblings split one by one by age seven, and whose father abandoned her alone in the marshlands of North Carolina by age ten. She can’t read or write, but she has observed and learned from the marshland, figuring out how to survive without much contact from the outside world. She attempted to go to school, lured by the promise of a warm cooked meal, for one day, only to be dubbed “marsh girl” by the students. From that day forward, she was determined to survive on her own, cooking what little she knew and making her own money by gathering mussels and fish to sell to the only adults in her life, Jumpin and Mabel.
As Kya reaches her teen years, she slowly befriends an old friend of her brother’s who helped her find her way home the first time she took out her father’s boat. Introducing himself as Tate, he and Kya strike up a blossoming friendship as he teaches her to read. After she’s read her first sentence, they share this sweet moment in which Kya marvels what she’s just read.
“She spoke almost in a whisper. “I wadn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.””
Kya loves being able to read, and it has opened a new world to her- she now knows the full names of her family, as well as her actual birthday.
Soon, Tate and Kya are falling in love, and Kya isn’t so sure what to think about these new emotions- but then Tate goes off to college to study marshland biology, breaking her heart. Though she waited for him, years went by, and Chase Andrews, a man who grew up as one of the wealthiest in town, takes a shine to the wild marsh girl turned woman. Lonely Kya keeps him at arms length but eventually falls for his charms and promise of marriage. Then, seemingly out of the blue, Tate returns, and Kya’s heart is torn between the two men.
Flash forward to 1969, Chase Andrews is found dead by two local boys. As the police investigate, they start to suspect Kya, who is still the called the marsh girl, still the topic of much gossip, and a continued target because of the mystery of her life in the lagoon. Though the town’s people think her stupid and feral, Kya has made a life for herself despite the disadvantages of her youth, becoming more educated than those that used to tease and bully her. But now, she has to prove she’s innocent against those that have been prejudiced against her for years.
Where The Crawdads Sing is beautifully written, full of descriptive imagery that puts the reader in Kya’s lagoon, with the perfect steady pace interrupted by quick currents. I highlighted so many passages on my Kindle that showed the creative writing, including melodic lines such as:
“Before the feather game, loneliness had become a natural appendage to Kya, like an arm. Now it grew roots inside her and pressed against her chest.”
Owens’ tale of the abandoned child turned woman survivalist is emotional, absorbing, and inspiring. It bothered me that she was such a spectacle, that in her youth this poor girl was determined to live in isolation with no financial security, living off what she could find or fish- and all the townspeople could do was stare, whisper, and mock. Kya’s will and strength astonished me, even though my heart broke for her struggles. I also loved and appreciated the nature/biology/ecology aspect, and Kya’s character development as she gains education and knowledge from her lagoon and books. The mystery component of the trial was a nice technique to keep the pace and make the reader continue guessing the outcome until the very end. Overall, Owen has easily created one of my favorite reads this year- a definite must read.