eBook review copy; 384 pages
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a very highly recommended coming-of-age story and murder mystery. This is an excellent debut novel and one of the best books I've read this year.
In 1969 Chase Andrews is found dead. Almost immediately suspicion is directed toward the Marsh Girl and the sheriff and his deputy gather evidence against her. Kya (Catherine) Clark, 23, is called the Marsh Girl, dirty, and swamp trash by the locals in Barkley Cove, North Carolina. Kya has survived for years alone, since her mother left when she was 6, quickly followed by all her siblings, leaving Kya with her violent, alcoholic father, who also later abandoned her when she is ten. After one day of school where she was teased and never went back, she has been alone. She made friends with the gulls, took delight in the natural world around her, and found a way to make money. A son of a shrimper and a former friend to her brother, Tate Walker befriends Kya and teaches her how to read. Tate and Kya share an appreciation for the natural world around her. When Tate leaves for college, Kya slowly begins a relationship with Chase.
The narrative flashes back and forth between the murder investigation and trial in 1969 to 1952 (and through the 1950s and 60's) to tell Kya’s story. Kya is an extraordinary, memorable well-developed character. She is portrayed with an exceptional depth of understanding and insight into human nature. Her isolation and the prejudice against her will break your heart. The resilience for a child to survive and thrive in her own way under the circumstances Kya was facing is remarkable and unforgettable. Clearly her childhood will have repercussions for her whole life.
Owens is a natural story-teller and I was enchanted. I admittedly sacrificed sleep to finish this novel as I could not stop reading during the trial. It is not a perfect novel. (Kya has an accomplishment achieved in her early 20's which is a bit far-fetched.) However, it excels in other ways that set it apart and above other novels. The descriptions of the natural world and Kya's relationship with it are simply incredible and perceptive. The depiction of a child surviving and raising herself, with a little help from Jumpin' and his wife Mabel, while making a life and dealing with her loneliness, abandonment, and solitude is outstanding. The novel becomes a courtroom drama later on, once the case against Kya is built. The ending was startling, memorable, and unexpected, but fit the narrative perfectly.
Where the Crawdads Sing is a remarkable, captivating debut and one of the best novels of the year.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Penguin Publishing Group.