For my first book review, I’ve chosen the debut novel of Delia Owens. As an accomplished nature writer, Delia has ventured away from the African landscape to the marshlands of North Carolina. To say this is a controversial book choice to start with is an understatement.
Many reviews you may have seen or heard are mixed; varying from the glowing to the downright ridicule. Everyone experiences a story differently. Some may share the same experience, others not so much. But that is what makes a story incredible. With this in mind, here is my unfiltered opinion on Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.
The colourful, coming-of-age story of Kya, “the Marsh Girl”, depicts a turbulent world filled with prejudice, abuse and beauty. We start in 1952, where we are introduced to a six-year old Kya and her family. Kya’s childhood is one of loneliness and abandonment which ultimately ends with Kya learning to fend for herself in the untameable marsh. Shunned by the local town, Kya learns how to navigate the world & her relationships through the swamp and its inhabitants. The second timeline of this story, opens in 1969 at the beginning of a murder investigation. Chase Andrews, well-known and from the local town of Barkley Cove, has been found dead beneath a fire tower in the marsh. We are dropped into the beginnings of the trial with Kya, now 24, the prime suspect of Chase’s murder.
I’ll be honest, it took me a fair few pages, if not a chapter or two to get past Delia Owens’ descriptive language of the landscape. Initially, I found it quite wearing but as the story developed, I found myself hunting for those moments when you are completely immersed in the vivid marshland. There was a slight disparity between the character description versus nature and at times, the character development wasn’t as strong as that of the natural world around them. Despite this, Delia touches on some interesting topics.
Throughout the story we explore the concept of prejudice and its impact on Kya’s relationships. I adored the maternal Mabel with her fussing and warmth as well as the development of Jumpin’ and his draw to support another person ostracised from society. Being set in a southern US state from the 1950s, we are faced with racism and privilege which Delia navigates without allowing this to become overbearing in the story.
From the shunned, to those with privilege, we see other relationships develop for Kya amongst the townsfolk. A few of Kya’s interactions are touching but they are more often laced with anger and distaste; an interesting and transparent take on how we treat those we feel are different or out of fear of the unknown. Kya’s romantic relationships begin with a local boy. Both young adults traverse the highs and lows of young love, with this relationship seeing its fair share of ups and downs throughout the book.
Kya’s second relationship however, is quite dramatic. We see character development from Delia which is an intriguing take on how women are often represented. In this instance, Kya represents the wildness of the marsh, and for this character, she is something that a man should be able to tame. As the relationship develops, there is a struggle between this sense of dominance and youth. Delia taps into the controversial topic of male entitlement and privilege, laying the ground for yet another traumatic relationship in Kya’s life.
In the later chapters of the book, Delia weaves together both timelines seamlessly. As Kya’s history catches up with a present day murder trial, we begin to see how Delia shows the character development of those secondary and ‘third’ characters in the story. We race towards the verdict of the trial, which I felt could have been built upon to further intensify the tension but Delia still had me guessing until the hammer hit the anvil! The final part of this story is the one area I felt fell flat. After the verdict, the last chapter felt rushed and I felt we lost so much of the scene setting we had in the beginning. Unfortunately, the author fell victim to the need of ‘closure’. Personally, Where the Crawdads Sing would have been a much stronger story had it been left open with unanswered questions.
With all things said and done, I really enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing. Yes, there were times where it was slightly unbelievable. Yes, instead of feeling sated, I felt shortchanged by the ending… But… It was beautifully imaginative, evocative and poignant.
With 4 out of 5 stars for this one, it is one I would recommend purely for the discussion afterwards!
Rating: ****/5 stars
As always, happy reading!