“Where The Crawdad Sings” by Delia Owens

Popular adult fiction lists welcomed “Where The Crawdads Sing” when the book was first published in 2018. Since then, it has appeared on the New York Times bestsellers list for more than 2 years and holds the record for the most weeks at #1 for fiction hardcover (at the time of this writing). The Minot-Sleeper Library owns 2 print copies and a large print copy of the book, and still, three years after its publication, it is rare to find a copy on the shelves.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” brings readers to a time and place in America’s not too distant past, both locale and period being critical to the plot. The story unfolds along the marshy coastline of North Carolina where the hot wind rattles the palmetto fronds, stands of oak trees grow tall, and boats glide through cattail lagoons. The time is the 1950s and ’60s when the civil rights movement brought our nation’s prejudices to light.

The story follows the life of Kya Clark, crudely nicknamed “Marsh Girl” by some people in town. When 6-year-old Kya is abandoned by her mother, who marches down the dirt driveway wearing alligator-skin heels and doesn’t turn around to wave goodbye, it is the first of several abandonments she will face. In some cases, it becomes clear that the relationships she believed she had were never what they seemed.

Loneliness is an ever-present theme in the book. Kya often feels torn between holding true to her personal values and trading these for a sense of belonging. Her values center around how we as humans treat the natural world around us, and whether we strive to live in harmony with it. Parallels are drawn between Kya’s connections to the natural world and the perspectives shared by Aldo Leopold in his nonfiction collection of published essays, “A Sand County Almanac.” I was pleasantly surprised to find to several references to this book, having just read it for Regenerative Reads, the library and sustainability committee’s new book group. Read my review here.

Kya is seen as a strange, outcast girl to many of the people who live in town (hence the name Marsh Girl). As a reader, it is easy to sympathize with Kya. We know her loss, the barriers she faces, and the incredible will she has to carry on through the most difficult times. I found her independence, love of learning, disinterest in day-to-day hustle and bustle to be heartening. If given the chance, I would jump at the opportunity to pack my bags and spend a week paddling estuaries with Kya, sitting quietly at her kitchen table decorated for the holidays with wild holly and seashells, and reading poetry.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” is a coming-of-age story that gently presents issues of abuse, abandonment, prejudice, and in small ways climate change. The reader will not feel an urgency to grapple with these issues, however, the topics would be valuable conversation starters for a book group or classroom.

In many ways the plot of “Where The Crawdads Sing” echoes those of “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Snow Falling on Cedars” with its small-town court trial, and “All The Light We Cannot See” with its hetero-normative love story and elements of natural science. These titles often appear on summer reading lists for high school students. I would not be surprised if one day “Where The Crawdads Sing” joins these titles as required reading during the summer months for teens and young adults.

For teens and adults of any age, this book leaves us searching our souls for where the place is in our own lives that the crawdads sing.

Want more?

Place a hold on “Where the Crawdads Sing” at the Minot-Sleeper Library

Visit Delia Owen’s website

Watch an interview with author Delia Owens at her home in Idaho

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