Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
There is a moment where Kya, the main character, on reading her first book says 'I wadna aware that words could hold so much. I didn't know a sentence could be so full'. This is a perfect metaphor for this beautiful novel which has now rocketed into my favourite Top 10 books. I hope my review will do this justice.
In late 1969, perfect American boy Chase Andrews is found dead and suspicion quickly falls on Kya Clark, the 'Marsh Girl'. Throughout the novel we follow the timeline of Kya's life as first her mother, then the rest of her family abandon her, leaving her to live alone on the marsh. The narrative is juxtaposed with the build up to and subsequent trial of Kya for Chase's murder.
The novel has echoes of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. We witness prejudice, small town politics, hope and good people. At the heart of the novel is Kya and her story is achingly beautiful. She shares powerful memories of her mother and sister, for example when her mother painted all her daughter's toes and took them out onto the Marsh, quickly becoming stuck and then giggling as the girls all stick their toes in the air so as not to ruin their pedicure. These memories hit you in the chest and are as vivid as my own memories of childhood.
As her family departs, Kya's teacher becomes the Marsh surrounding her. It becomes as much a character as Kya herself, the descriptions and love that Kya has for her home are simply wonderful. She takes her moral compass from the wildlife surrounding her, life lessons from the landscape and grasses and passions from the sea and tides. The marsh is home, a sanctuary providing a much needed escape for Kya. As the first line read by Kya says 'There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot'.
One day she sees a boy and watches him from the reeds. He spots her and leaves her a bird's feather on a tree stump. Their friendship blossoms and it is Tate who teaches her to read opening up a new world of knowledge, words and poetry. Kya also develops a friendship with 'Jumpin' and his wife Mabel, who are also outcast due to the colour of their skin but take a reluctant Kya under their wing and look out for her.
We witness Kya's first agonising forays into love with Tate and when he comes to leave for University the writing and Kya's pain is raw and visceral. She then begins a relationship with Chase Andrews who promises her a 'normal' life - marriage, a house and children. Without a parent to guide her Kya falls back on the lessons learned through nature to navigate her way through love.
I have truly adored this novel and since finishing it keep dipping back in to read favourite chapters. The Marsh is as strong a character as Kya and Delia Owen's writing makes it a guiding hand to her. Despite the prejudice that exists amongst the townspeople, there is also good - Tate, his father, Jumpin' and Mabel. By and far the most engaging part of the novel is Kya herself. Strong, determined and proof that your background does not define who you are. This is a testament to the human spirit and a love letter to the Marshes. Breathtaking and beautiful.