Review: Where the Crawdads Sing
Print Arts + Lit editor Ella Minty shares her thoughts on Delia Owen’s bestselling novel, Where the Crawdads Sing.
If you selected a page from its middle, you might assume that Delia Owen’s novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, echoes Robinson Crusoe. The plot follows Kya’s struggle to survive after being abandoned by her family when she was just seven years old. Crawdads opens on the discovery of Chase Andrews’ corpse, the town’s handsome and popular sports player, catapulting the reader into an exciting, fast-paced narrative. Time stamps help distinguish Kya’s coming of age story from the police’s murder investigation. Kya, due to her status as a social outcast is, predictably, blamed for Chase’s murder. This narrative somewhat resembles M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains.
Extensive – albeit not boring – descriptions of nature are intertwined with an overarching theme of loneliness, as Kya tentatively adapts to her solitary marsh life, with nature as her sole companion: ‘Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother’. In an age of social media and rapid technological advances, Crawdads strips human life down to its core, celebrating nature in a time of climate crisis. The end of the novel includes a nod towards urbanisation, as Kya’s father figure Jumpin’s shop is torn down and replaced with a fancy marina.
In an age of social media and rapid technological advances, Where the Crawdads Sing strips human life down to its core, celebrating nature in a time of climate crisis.
The novel’s setting in 1960s North Carolina made the theme of prejudice somewhat unavoidable. Owens explores how the townsfolk alienate black people and the isolated Kya, as they do not conform to their societal norms. The novel does not shy away from difficult topics, like when Kya realises the stains on her hand-me-down sundress are old blood from when her father hit her mother with a poker. Our heart aches for Kya in these moments, as the sensitive, intelligent girl tries to pick up the pieces of her broken childhood.
Where the Crawdads Sing is also a coming-of-age story. You will undoubtedly come to hate the two young men that Kya opens her heart to. The novel depicts men in two very contrasting ways: there are characters like Tate, who teaches Kya to read, and Jumpin’, a local black shop owner who aids Kya’s survival from a little girl. Chase, however, treats Kya awfully, culminating in an attempted rape; most of the men in the town are, subsequently, quick to blame Kya, ‘The Marsh Girl’, for his murder. Owens, in a natural paradox, shows the best and worst traits of humanity in this novel.
Crawdads will have tears streaming down your face as you root for Kya to finally find happiness and fulfilment without other people’s interference. Enjoy the ride: it promises to be bumpy, but beautifully descriptive and scenic, too.