“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” – Aldo Leopold
First of all, you might want to stop reading for a minute and put a hold on this book right away. This book is that good. Just click on the book title or cover picture in this post and you’ll be taken directly to the catalog. ‘Cause you’re gonna want to read this book.
Set in marshes of North Carolina between dry land and the sea, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is transporting. It is by turns heartbreaking, joyful and inspiring and an ode to nature and its beauty. Part survival story, part murder mystery, part romance. 100% impossible to put down.
This novel shifts between the early 50s through the 60s and 1969-1970, opening in 1952 in the marshes on the North Carolina coast. Long unclaimed and unmapped, the marshes have for centuries been the refuge of drifters, the poor, those escaping their past or the law and runaway slaves. With few roads, the main transport is by small boats navigating a labyrinth of estuaries, creeks, lagoons and rivers known only to those who live there.
A woman, dressed in her best clothes, walks away from a rundown shack. She leaves behind her abusive husband, five children and unrelenting isolation. One by one the children also leave until only 6-year-old Kya is left. Mostly, her father leaves her to fend for herself. When he’s not drinking he teaches her the ways of the marsh and how to survive but eventually, one day, he leaves too. And thus the foundation of Kya’s life is set – she cannot trust that anyone will stay and learns to depend only on herself.
Kya becomes a student of the marsh, it’s birds and insects and plant life. She figures out how to keep herself alive, how to earn a small amount of money to buy gas for the boat and basic supplies, She evades Social Services again and again until they give up. Although most of the people in the nearby village ridicule and despise her, some reach out with small kindnesses and a boy who knew her brother teaches her to read. It is a lonely life, but she survives and even thrives.
And then Chase Andrews, former star high school quarterback, is murdered in the marsh and everything changes.
The 1969-1970 sections of the book follow the discovery of the body, the murder investigation and the trial, written in counterpoint to Kya’s life. There is no grandiose courtroom scenes, or sensationalized confrontations or revelations, but the trial is nerve-racking tense and suspenseful. Who murdered Chase? Was it the wild girl living in the marsh? Why would Chase, a “good” boy from a “good’ family get involved with marsh trash? Would anyone stand up for Kya?
This novel is a lyrical celebration of the quiet and unassuming in nature and in humankind. Of the connections we make – need to make – to nature, to community, to family, to another person. What happens when those connections are broken and how they can be regained. How past experiences shape us, mold our personalities and our outlook and how we react to those experiences that create us again and again.