Where the Crawdads Sing


Delia Owens


Mystery & Thriller


Date Reviewed:

August 16, 2020

decided to read Where the Crawdads Sing because it had been on the bestseller list months and months. At the time of my writing this review, the novel has 63,273 reviews (wow!) on Amazon, and 86% of them are 5 star rating. My review, although posted here and not on Amazon, is the 63274th, and I give it 5 stars also. I knew I would have to start reading the book as soon as I got it home from the library, a book that popular has a long wait list and so cannot be renewed. I started reading when I got it home, and finished the next day. A tremendous story.

The title Where the Crawdads Sing is explained as a wild place that is untouched by humanity, a place in nature where you can go to be free of constraints of civilization, to be one with the outdoors. This place is the marsh where Kya spends her life. But the explanation still didn't make sense to me - I believe a crawdad is creature that lives in the water, like the small freshwater creatures that we use to call crayfish when I was growing up. So how could a crustacean sing?

Where the Crawdads Sing is a murder mystery. This is apparent from the first page of the novel. It is 1969. The body of Chase Andrews lies broken on the marsh; clearly he has fallen from fire tower above him. But did he fall, or was he pushed? The story jumps back and forth in time - with some chapters dealing with the ongoing police investigation in 1969, but the majority of the chapters focus on young Catherine Daniel Clark, nicknamed Kya (or simply called Marsh Girl by the townspeople who can't be bothered to learn her name.) We meet Kya in 1952, when she is just six years old and her mother walks out the door, abandoning her children and forever leaving her drunk, abusive husband. One by one, the people in Kya's life disappear, until a few years later, she finds herself all alone in a ramshackled old building without electricity or plumbing, floating through the waterways in her father's old boat. The majority of the story is focused on Kya's solitary existence. We learn about her attempts to make human contact, looking for any glimpse of kindness, someone to be a friend. It is an engrossing story. We watch Kya roam the swamp, learn its secrets, and commune with the birds.

As Kya grows older, the years get closer to the fateful year of 1969, and the possible murder of Chase Andrews, the best quarterback the high school ever had. It seemed to me that his death must be an accident, how could any murderer know that Andrews would be alone on top of the fire tower in the middle of the night? Owens slowly doles the clues of the case. Could Kya have done it? Some clues appear to exonerate her, other clues implicate her. Could it have been another person - Owens gives enough hints that the reader will wonder.

Although the book was a page turner, I did ponder the plausibility of Kya and her solitary existence. I know this sounds silly, but I thought about her teeth. Wouldn't someone who never sees a dentist or doctor have lost all teeth in her head by age 20 or so? I also doubt that anyone, however ardent, could completely teach themselves to be an accomplished artist. I think there is a lot of artistic knowledge that has be taught - perspective, composition, anatomy, how to use proper materials and how to store finished pieces. How did Kya learn to repair the boat? But these are minor quibbles, I thought about them after I finished the book, not while I was rapidly turning the pages of this excellent story.

Delia Owens is a scientist, she has studied wildlife in Africa and written a couple of books about her research there. The writing in Where the Crawdads Sing paints such a beautiful picture of the North Carolina swamps, that I wonder if her nonfiction books are equally rivetting.

By coincidence, a few months earlier, I had tried to read another book about a young girl growing up alone in a swamp, guiding her father's boat around - that book was The Boatman's Daughter, and although I tried multiple times to read it, I never was hooked and finally put it down for good after plowing through about one hundred pages. The similarities of settings and the heroine are surely just a coincidence, but it is interesting (to me, at least) how one book turned out to be so captivating and the other was unable to retain my interest. Read Where the Crawdads Sing, it is the much better novel.