Where the Crawdads Sing

“infobox Book “
name Where the Crawdads Sing
image caption First edition cover
author Delia Owens
country America
language English language
genre(s) Crime, Bildungsroman
publisher G.P Putnam’s Sons
release date 2018
media type Paperback
pages 384

Where the Crawdads Sing is the debut novel by the American author Delia Owens, published in 2018. The book is set in the marshes of the coastal region of North Carolina on the East Coast of America and ranges in time from the 1940s through to the 2000s. It tells the story of Kya, who initially is a little girl in the earliest stages of the book and who comes of age as the book progresses. Her life is filled with adversity as she is abandoned at a young age by her family and has to find her own way in the world. Owens took the title of her book from a phrase which her own mother used to use. Crawdads is a slang term for crayfish and the title is meant to evoke the idea of wandering far enough out into the marshes of North Carolina where it is so wild that crayfish can be heard singing.

Where the Crawdads Sing is divided into two parts, the first called ‘The Marsh’ and the second called ‘The Swamp’. In ‘The Marsh’ two boys discover the body of Chase Edwards, a hero of the local area around Barkley Cove in North Carolina. This occurs in 1969. As soon as his body is discovered the local community begin to suspect that Catherine ‘Kya’ Clark, a reclusive woman who lives out by the marshes and is euphemistically known as ‘The Marsh Girl’ by the local people, might be responsible for Edwards’ death or at least involved in some way.

The book then flashes back to the 1950s where we learn about Kya’s back story. In 1952 her mother, Marie Jacques Clark, fled from her family to escape the physical abuse which she was suffering at the hands of Kya’s father, Jake. Then a few years later Jake disappears, leaving young Kya to survive by herself as a child. Her only true companion in the years immediately thereafter was Tate Walker, a local boy of a similar age to Kya who like her loves the marshes and nature out by where the crawdads sing. However, he too eventually abandons Kya when he leaves to head for college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill a few years later.

The second part of the novel, ‘The Swamp’, begins in the mid-1960s when Kya has emerged as a beautiful young woman. She is being courted by Chase, a star of the local football team who is besotted by Kya. This is the same Chase Edwards who we learned at the start of the novel had been founded dead in the marsh in 1969. In 1965 Kya and Chase begin dating after a time, though Kya is reticent about engaging in sexual relations too quickly. Eventually they have sex during a trip out of town to Asheville in 1966. But this leads to just the next betrayal in Kya’s life as Chase quickly distances himself from her after this and she soon learns that he is actually engaged to another woman and they will soon be married.

Shortly after Chase leaves the scene, Tate re-emerges when he makes contact with Kya. He tries to apologize for having left her to head to Chapel Hill. She refuses to fully accept his apology, but she does allow Tate to send some of her drawings to a book publisher, Kya being a talented artist. The publisher is interested in them and agrees to publish Kya’s work. It sells well and with the royalties that she gets from sales she is able to buy the land near the marsh where her family used to live.

The book then jumps back to where it began in 1969 and the discovery of Chase’s body out in the marsh region. The local sheriff and police are investigating Kya as the prime suspect in the murder. When they learn about her past relationship with him they arrest her. She is pressured to plead guilty in order to avoid a possible death sentence at trial, but when the case goes to court it is revealed that all the prosecution’s evidence is circumstantial, while witnesses come forward to prove that Kya was actually out of town on the night that Chase was murdered. The jury acquits her accordingly.

The final stages of the novel reveal that Kya eventually married Tate and they went on to live a happy life together on the marsh of North Carolina. However, when Kya dies in the 2000s at the age of 64 Tate uncovers a number of poems written by her in which she describes murdering Chase Edwards back in 1969. The novel closes with Tate burning the poems to destroy the evidence of Kya’s crime many decades earlier.