For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.
But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life's lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world—until the unthinkable happens.
In Where the Crawdads Sing, Owens juxtaposes an exquisite ode to the natural world against a profound coming of age story and haunting mystery. Thought-provoking, wise, and deeply moving, Owens’s debut novel reminds us that we are forever shaped by the child within us, while also subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
The story asks how isolation influences the behavior of a young woman, who like all of us, has the genetic propensity to belong to a group. The clues to the mystery are brushed into the lush habitat and natural histories of its wild creatures.
Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa—Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savanna. She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and International Wildlife, among many others. She currently lives in Idaho, where she continues her support for the people and wildlife of Zambia. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.
Like so many people, I read this book because my book club chose it. Unlike so many people, I am not impressed. Not even a little bit. A lot of times when a book is rated this high, I tend to think it's me and not the book. But nope. This time I fully believe it's the book.
This will be ranty and in the order in which things made me want to rant. No apologies.
I should've known things weren't going to go well from the title alone. Crayfish are all over the place, but they don't sing in any of those places.*
I definitely knew this wasn't the book for me on the very first page. I absolutely abhor overwrought prose that reads like the author sat down with the intention of writing the next Great American Novel and therefore had a certain number of adjectives and metaphors to fit on each page to prove their work was worth the accolades it was sure to get with sentences like: "Swamp water is still and dark, having swallowed the light inits muddy throat. Even night crawlers are diurnal in this lair. There are sounds, of course, but compared to the marsh, the swamp is quiet because decomposition is cellular work. Life decays and reeks and returns to the rotted duff; a poignant wallow of death begetting life." There is beautiful imagery, and then there is pretentious cobbling together of SAT words and figurative language so it seems deep but really isn't. For me, this was the latter. And so much of the book is just that overly flowery language barfed over every page for no reason, saying nothing or not making a lick of sense with what it does say. But it sounds pretty! So! Art!
Then there was the massive eye-brow raising I did when I discovered this was taking place in North Carolina. The dialect. AGHHHHH!!!! This is why authors shouldn't use dialect when they write. You have to know a place so well in order to do that. Southern hick does not equal southern hick does not equal southern hick. There are (at the very least) five different dialects spoken in North Carolina. I attended Appalachian State University in Boone. The majority of my professors could tell which region each NC native was from by a couple sentences. I had a few who could get within two counties of where they were born after hearing them speak. Yeah. Kya's father's dialect would be exceedingly different from everyone else in their community as he is from the mountains and they are in the Outer Banks. Those are so distinctive and nothing alike. No one else in the world speaks like the Pamlico Sound people of NC. And it is rather hard to capture its cadence and brogue on page so just don't try. You will fail. (Owens totally failed.)
Is that nit-picky? Maybe. But I'm more concerned with how the dialect was used. Every "good" person in the book overcame their dialect to learn to speak "proper" (ugh I hate even typing that word) English. Are you telling me Kya, who didn't have TV or radio as influence, lost her dialect with no practice and no outside influence because she was just...smart??? Good???? Same with Tate. But Chase kept his so we knew he was bad and a threat. There's some classist nonsense imbedded deep in that, and I am not here for it in any way. It's particularly annoying as it reads the way I imagine people pretend to speak when they're speaking "southern hick" to be mockingly superior but have never actually heard a real human in the south speak.**
Then I reached the part on p57 where Kya's dad says of his family: "They had land, rich land, raised tobacco and cotton and such. Over near Asheville. Yo' gramma on my side wore bonnets big as wagon wheels and long skirts. We lived in a house wif a verandder that went a'the way around two stories high. It was fine, mighty fine." I actually took a screenshot and sent it to my husband who was born and lived his entire life "near Asheville". His response, "What in the world?" What in the world indeed. A. No one from western NC talks like this. And Kya's father didn't move to the OBX until he was an adult, so he would still have his home dialect. Any student of language knows you don't shed and switch an accent easily once you're in adulthood. It takes practice. And even then the results are dodgy. Also this is not how Pamlico people speak anyway. See my rant about dialect above. B. Does Owens know Asheville is in the mountains??? (Tobacco was grown in the mountains though not nearly as much or as successfully as in the Piedmont. Cotton is waaaayyy harder. It gets too cold and rains too much. Also there's just not enough flat, arable land to make it worth the effort. I know there was a cotton mill in Asheville at the time, but I've never heard about people growing the cotton around there. If they were, it had to have failed more than half the time and not because of weevils. It's just not hot enough long enough. And no one was getting rich off agriculture and building plantation style houses there with slaves as was mentioned later in the book. Western NC was not like the Deep South. Because it is MOUNTAINS. Anyone who has ever driven to Asheville from the Piedmont knows exactly how mountainous. It's like flat flat flat whoa we're going UP. There's not enough flat land for plantations.)
Then there was the part where Tate's mom went to ASHEVILLE for a bike because they didn't have it at the local store. Like WHAT??? She didn't try Wilmington? She drove past Greenville, Raleigh (the capitol), Durham, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, missed exits to CHARLOTTE (the largest city), to drive up a mountain for a bike? Literally no other city in NC had it? it takes SIX HOURS to drive from the Pamlico Sound to Asheville on a good traffic day in the year of our Lord 2019. Do you know how long it would've been in the 50s???
Good Grief, what is this woman's obsession with Asheville? And does she believe it is somewhere near the coast rather than on the complete opposite end of a rather long state?
Which is how I knew no matter how smart she sounded or how much she might know about science and wildlife, Delia Owens didn't bother to research squat about North Carolina. Or she did and then disregarded it for whatever reason. Maybe she thought the Outer Banks and Asheville as NC's top tourist destinations were the names she needed to drop to make her book sound authentic??? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Huge parts of the novel are a giant snooze fest of nature this nature that and here's some more nature. And also grits. Because this is SOUTHERN y'all. In case it hasn't been hammered in yet.
There were some freakin' awkward sexual scenes.
Then there were the long drawn out court scenes that were just so tedious.
I gathered from these scenes Owens is also unclear about travel times from the Greenville to the OBX. (Also I’m not sure if there ever was a Piedmont Hotel in Greenville, which is in the coastal plain and not the Piedmont. However, there IS one in Waynesville, which is also not in the Piedmont. Waynesville is in the mountains near.....guess where....Asheville.) Someone buy the woman a freakin’ map since she clearly doesn’t know what Google is.
The working of the town vs Kya also bothered me. It's like Owens knows that the OBX people are a difficult community to become a part of without truly understanding the whys and hows of it all.
Kya's character development was just so frustrating overall. And some of the stuff she accomplishes requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief. Owens definitely wanted the reader to see her a certain way. She is a manic pixie dream girl in a marsh until suddenly she isn't...
And finally rant-wise, Owens doesn't seem to know quite what she wants this book to be. Is it an ode to nature? Is it a crime novel? Is it literary fiction? It's kind of like she wanted to write the crime novel but genre writing is too plebeian, so here comes the overwrought language and navel gazing. Because ART. The nature part was her falling back on what she was comfortable with I think.
*Crayfish do, I learned from my research, make a noise but we don't often hear it as they can make it underwater as well as out of water. It sounds like tap dancing. No singing even remotely flirted with. Where the Crawdads Tap Dance doesn't have the same ring I guess. And also doesn't narrow things down geographically. I did wonder why it wasn't called Where the Cicadas Sing. Because those sing. And are on a 17 year cycle. Which would have fit PERFECTLY with the timeline of the book. So color me confused. I know NC can be overrun with cicadas, but I'm not sure if the Pamlico region has them or not. Still would have made more sense than the actual title. (Again, it sounds flowery and important. Doesn't mean it has depth or meaning.)
**My husband decided at age 13 to get rid of his accent. He worked long and hard at it. He did it by listening to network TV anchors and copying their speech patterns. It took years of concentrated effort. It's still not completely gone though he can pass for not being southern in other parts of the country. And when he's home? It comes back full force with all its dialectic eccentricities. I've lived the majority of my life in the Southern Appalachian mountains. Everyone here still knows I'm an outsider the second I open my mouth despite the fact my midwestern relatives swear up and down I have an accent now. And people here in eastern Tennessee are uncertain about my husband because he sounds kind of like them but not quite. (He's let his accent come back more since settling here because it helps with the not being considered an outsider. That's as important in southern Appalachia as it is in the OBX if you want to be embraced by the community.) But a single gorge changed the dialect between eastern TN Appalachian and western NC Appalachian just enough natives here recognize his accent as being not quite theirs. BY THE WAY my husband was just as smart after training out his accent as he was when he had it at its thickest. He knew he needed it gone to be a journalist, so he got rid of it. He was literally asked to "speak southern" by people in Michigan when we lived there briefly more than once so they could laugh about it. Which is f***ed up. Southerners speak the way they do for cultural and geographical reasons and it has nothing to do with the amount of intelligence or righteousness they have.
9/8/20 note: Dear Goodreaders, If you loved this book, I'm very happy for you. As a reader and also somebody who works in the publishing industry, I want all readers to like or love as many books as possible, so the fact that you love this book is, in my opinion, a good thing. If reading a review that does not agree with your opinion enrages you, don't read this review. I do not believe there are spoilers in my opinion, but a couple of commenters think there are. So if you have not yet read this book, you may not want to read my review. I read it quite a while ago and have moved on to many more books that I'm more interested in. So I won't be joining conversation in the comments. If you disliked this book, you may enjoy having some company in your opinion. --Betsy Robinson
The Review (November 18, 2018)
Normally I would not finish let alone review a book I disliked as much as I did this one, but since I bought the book and am reading it for my book club, I’ve decided to say what I think:
I found the writing of this romance/murder mystery to be painfully split—almost as if there were two different authors: an experienced one for the vivid narrative and an amateur for dialogue and character development (which in fact may be the case, since the author’s an experienced nature writer and this is her first novel).
The story is told in two time periods: Young Kya, left alone in the marsh to fend for herself, starts the story in 1952; and police investigate a murder in 1969. The opening lyrical descriptions of the swampland and inner thoughts of the swamp kids had soul—I loved, felt, and smelled the land, sea, air, and dense plants. But when people started talking, the writing became stilted, overwritten, and unbelievable. This happened in the earlier time period with Kya and a boy and the boy and his dad, and same thing with the 1969 police dialogue. The kids’ scenes had an after-school TV special sound and the police scenes sounded canned, like a marshlands-of-North Carolina version of Law and Order, where exposition is awkwardly inserted to move the story forward or there is overwriting that takes away from what could have sounded more authentic to the region. For example, a deputy says to his sheriff:
“I’m hungry. Let’s go by the diner on the way out there.”
“Well, get ready for an ambush. Everybody in town’s pretty riled up. Chase Andrew’s murder’s the biggest thing’s happened ’round here, maybe ever. Gossip’s goin’ up like smoke signals.”
“Well, keep an ear out. We might pick up a tidbit or two. Most ne’er-do-wells can’t keep their mouths shut.”(61)
Why not just, “I’m hungry,” and cut to the wonderful description of the Barkley Cove Diner and the scene of people gossiping about the crime?
In real life, people do not say everything they’re thinking or narrate everything that’s happening or is going to happen. In fact, most of us lie about what we really think—if we are even self-aware enough to know our subconscious thoughts. Leaving out thoughts, leaving gaps in truth, and trusting the characters a writer has created allows subtext and real character to drive things forward. There is none of that here.
I found the character development absurd: Simply put, there are no authentic, complex characters. Kya starts as a believable swamp rat, which is inconsistent with what we learn about the derivation of her parents. Her voice is unbelievably inconsistent throughout the book. Then there are the two one-dimensional romances, one of which allows her to learn to read at age 14 and grow into an educated, sophisticated, poetry-reciting biologist, knowing lyrics to songs she never would have heard, etc., and the other, a sexual relationship where she doesn’t even think about getting pregnant although she seems to have learned all her biology from the esoteric scientific texts she reads.
I finished this book by skimming large sections, starting at page 164 when the entire plot became apparent, sans an end-of-book twist which was intellectually fun, but just as unbelievable as the manipulations of Kya’s character.
Sorry, friends who adore this book, I’m an outlier on this one, I guess.
Seeing as to how I skipped most of the second half of the book, I have no choice but to give it one star.
There are so many things wrong with it, I hardly know where to start. The only thing it really had going for it was the plot, which was definitely a good one, and it is too bad that it got wrecked.
I am at a loss to put this book into any kind of genre. Romance? YA? Courtroom drama? Murder mystery? I rather suspect that the author had the idea, first and foremost, to weave a story around how human behavior imitates that of wildlife, was fascinated by the marsh area of NC and fashioned a story around this. As a result the book neither flies nor swims. We might, on one page, get a lot of scientific information about insects, birds and plants, then we are back to the romance style of “her cheeks burned,” “her groin throbbed as if all her blood had surged there.” “her long hair trailing in the wind” and “he reached out and ran his fingers across her firm breasts.” Did I mention that she had black hair and red lips? And that she spontaneously recites poetry out loud on the beach?
Some books have unlikely coincidences, some have downright contrived ones and others have those that are highly unlikely and therefore plain unbelievable. In the first and second cases, a book can still make it if the characterisations, settings and plot are well done. In the third case, unless you are talking about a fairy tale, you have to be either really romantically minded or you just go along with whatever for the sake of entertainment. “Crawdads” falls into the third category.
It is rather unbelievable that, even with an abusive and alcoholic father, the rest of the family would simply abandon their six-year old daughter and sister, unless they were totally depraved, which the author portrays them as not. It is unbelievable that not one single adult in the nearby town would know that the girl was in the marsh by herself and thus make some effort to help her. I will put the rest of the “unbelievables” at the bottom in a spoiler alert. Aside from them, there are the errors and other annoying facets.
Such as the author’s use of the vernacular, but only for the bad folks. The good folks all speak proper English. Such as the author’s fascination with southern food, especially grits, black-eyed peas and turnip greens, which are mentioned ad-nauseum.
Spoiler alert: Unbelievable that the girl, who did not learn to read until age 14, would then go on to become a self-educated scientist and artist and even write several books, all while being entirely on her own in the wilds. It is unbelievable, since she wasn’t that far from town, that she would never seek out any contact with anyone besides her two suitors and an old black couple. Especially since she was a “looker” and wore white cut-off jeans (really??) when she went to town to buy groceries. How could everyone be so mean to her unless she was plain weird (which we are assured she was not). No, it was that all the town’s people were just narrow-minded and mean…except for of course the one golden boy with the golden locks.
Can I just say that I loved everything about this book and leave it at that!?!
Where the Crawdads Sing is a story of resiliency, survival, hope, love, loss, loneliness, desperation, prejudice, determination and strength. This book goes back and forth in time to tell the story of Kya Clark a.k.a. the Marsh girl. She lives on the outskirts of town, in the Marsh, and the locals look down their noses at her, she is judged, ridiculed and bullied. But there are those who show her kindness, friendship, and show her love. Oh, how I loved this book!
Kya was a young girl when her Mother walked away without looking back. Soon, all her siblings followed suit, leaving Kya alone with her often absent, drunk, and abusive father. She is left to care for their home, to cook, clean and take care of both of their needs. How her situation pulled on my heartstrings. She had to learn to shop, to cook and to provide food for herself in her father's absence. All while dealing with loneliness, feelings of abandonment and loss. Always wondering when and if her Mother will ever return. She was a smart and clever girl who knew the marsh and found ways to make money and provide for her basic needs. Soon 'Jumpin and his wife, Mable, show her kindness, generosity and love. I dare you not to adore this couple!
As Kya grows and learns more about life through her interactions with the creatures of the Marsh, two young men enter her life. One is her brother's older friend, Tate, who teaches her to read and shows her acceptance and happiness. Another brings her hope of a future but won’t introduce her to his friends and family. Could one be her chance at happiness? A chance at belonging? A chance at being accepted? A chance at being loved? A Chance for growth? Or will history repeat itself?
In 1969, local football legend, Chase Andrews is found dead. Rumors swirl as to motive and possible suspects. Rumors have been circulating for years about Chase and his involvement with the Marsh girl. Could she be his killer? What motive could she have?
This book had a little bit of everything that I love: a likeable main character who pulls at your heartstrings, murder mystery, atmosphere, drama, coming of age, and romance. There are several characters who give and show kindness including, Tate, the cashier who gives back too much change and the couple who make sure Kya has what she needs. What is the saying? Those that have the least to give, give the most! There is a police investigation and court room drama and some twists and turns I did not see coming.
This book is beautifully written and contains poetry and vivid descriptions of the Marsh. I highly recommend this book! It's thoughtful, evokes emotion, and transports the reader back in time to the Marsh. I loved every page.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is a gentle yet symbolic depiction of the valiant survival of Kya Clark—a reclusive young girl who has been abandoned by her parents, siblings, school system, the entire town surrounding her, and what ultimately feels like life itself.
Mother Nature has quite literally become Kya’s caretaker, and deep in a lonely Marsh along the North Carolina coast is where Kya will not only hide, but blossom into a primal independent being, coaxed inside the embrace of an indiscriminate wilderness as she embodies its uninhibited spirit.
Until a boy from “yonder” befriends Kya, and her lonely existence is shaken straight to its solemn core. Add to that the curious unsolved murder of the town’s local “Golden Boy”, and all that’s left to say is game-on.
Although this story delivers one hell of a powerful punch, it is sculpted with a humble hand; a delicate wind that keeps building and building until it ends up emphatically blowing your mind.
The writing. Is. Beautiful. Prose so unique and so breathtaking that a single description of a firefly suddenly grows so intimate and probing, and I might have gotten something in my eye—*sniff*.
Here you’ll find sentences that read like poetry, with a lyrical rhythm that sways the reader like the gentle rocking of a boat. Yet it is not showy nor over-the-top --- but pretty perfect.
Owens doesn't tell us what to think, but alludes to each message through writing so alive you can almost hear it breathing. She carries us through her dense, atmospheric tone and persuades us to seek and find; discover and examine, all on our own.
She allows her striking imagery to guide us as the marsh has guided Kya, and I felt as though I could smell the sea and taste the sweetness of new love.
Kya’s journey spans years, the reader present from her childhood into maturity. I love this story’s ode to wilderness and Mother Earth with her instinctual need to nurture and protect. I love each character’s flawed nature as well as those redeemed. I love the heart and soul that saturates every inch of this story, and more than anything, I LOVE that spectacularly bold ending!
To the reader who appreciates nature’s effortless beauty honored in fiction; to those who seek a love story every bit true as it is tender; to the one who needs a tantalizing murder/mystery to spice things up, and for those who tend to root for the underdog in hopes she’ll someday sparkle like the gem she is—this one’s for you.
Phew, I finally made it through this book! My apologies to everyone who loved this, but unfortunately, I did not, and no one's sadder than me.
Reading Where the Crawdads Sing was like stepping back in time to high school, when class-assigned books meant lots of award-winning fiction. Sure, there were plenty of literary merit found in these pages, but little joy was actually experienced from reading them.
Starting at the age of six, Kya was slowly abandoned by everyone in her family, until she was the sole person left living in a little shack at the edge of town. As the years went by, shunned by the entire town, she slowly became known as the "Marsh Girl," a wild and lonely creature that few knew and most feared. This is her story. And when the town's golden boy dies, old prejudices flair up, and Kya finds herself at the receiving end of the town's anger and suspicion.
This story is descriptive prose at its most verbose, and no detail—the marsh, waterways, bugs, trees, animals, and sea shells—was too small to be included. But the story has little plot and even less character development. Especially in the beginning, when Kya didn't talk to or interact with a single person, the monotony of the writing almost did me in.
The other big issue is that the story is pretty hard to believe. We're supposed to accept that Kya is able to fend for herself, which includes cooking, cleaning, going to the store, buying things, and coming up with ways to make money, all at the age of six. That is way beyond the realm of possibility, let alone probability. There's only so far my beliefs can be suspended, I tell you.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy a single thing here because I did. I found the middle of the book to be the most engaging. That was when Kya started interacting with others and the writing became a little bit more interesting as a result. Tate and Jumpin' were my favorite characters, and every scene they were in grabbed me. But the juxtaposition of their scenes (alive and compelling) against the ones without them (descriptive and unchanging) made the latter feel even more dull and plodding by comparison.
In the end, this book just isn't for me. Everything that others loved are all the same things I didn't. I prefer my books to have interesting plot advancement, nuanced character growth, and zippy writing, none of which this book had. Instead, the plot is straightforward, the characters all remain stubbornly the same throughout, and the writing is long-winded enough to deflate even the most enthusiastic of readers.
All of you talked me into reading this book. The Goodreads reviews were virtually unanimously good, not just good, great. It had to be good, I thought. And because I needed an extra audiobook I bought it on Libro.fm and locked myself into reading it. Bad decision.
This book is just a pile of tropes and cliches dressed up in some nice nature writing. The plot is not much of a plot and the mystery makes up only a small section of the book, and much of it ends up being courtroom scenes and not much mystery. This book is basically Manic Pixie Dream Girl In the Marsh. We spend a long time with young Kya, abandoned, fending for herself, almost entirely isolated. I was willing to be patient through all that, to see what kind of person she would grow into because that had the potential to be very interesting.
Except it was not. It became less interesting the longer I read. Because Kya doesn't act like a person who has been almost entirely isolated. She just acts like a regular loner. Sure, she may have some habits that fit with her strange upbringing, but she seems to understand people and language just like a regular person. I was nearly out of my head with frustration that the book had spent so long telling me how different she was only to have her be just the same as most people. (Deciding to never love again because everyone leaves you is a pretty regular-person thing to do when you're in your 20's, for example.)
This isn't a book of deep psychological insight. You can probably guess from a couple of chapters in how it will end. (And you would be right!) There are no real revelations, the plot is pretty obvious ahead of time. And it's all rather confusing because there are sections where Owens writes well, her courtroom scenes are actually quite competent, but on both the broad strokes and the specific details nothing here really rings true. And the more time that passed the more I got annoyed with this book so it finally fell from 3-stars to a rare 2-star review. (I usually quit a 2-star book.) If you're going to give me a plot I've seen a thousand times, at least wrap it in some keen insight or character development. But sadly this was a failure for me all around.
I seem to be finding myself in the minority a lot these days. The first half of this book was pretty close to marvelous, and then it went south on me (that is a pun). Anyway, after my attempt at weak humor, let me resume in a serious note to say I was expecting so much more than I got here.
Kya is a mere ten years old in 1952 when she is deserted, albeit gradually, by all the members of her family and left to make it alone in the marsh country of North Carolina. She forms a real attachment and understanding of her environment, which would be a necessity to survive in such a place, and she mostly works that to her advantage. When a young man who was once a friend of her brother finds her alone and begins to offer some help and company, she learns to read and her life begins to take a turn toward something more than isolation and running barefoot through the woods.
That part of the story was interesting to me. I was interested in how she would survive, whether she would connect with the outside world, and of course how she would tie into the parallel story of the 1969 murder of a young man from the neighboring town. Then, in what seemed an abrupt change of tone, the story devolved into what I would deem chick lit. The plot became shallow and the author seemed to me to have lost the thread of her story and veered into another realm.
I am sorry this didn’t work for me. I wanted it to, indeed I thought it was going to. Perhaps it is me. Since it is a group read, I am anxious to see what the other members of the group saw that perhaps I did not.
I had originally rated this a 3-star read, but after reflection I find that I strongly feel it was only "OK" and therefore I have revised the rating to 2-stars. I think I felt shy of giving it only 2 when so many of my respected friends had given it 5...but truth should prevail.
You know that person? The one who doesn't like what everyone else seems to love? There has to be someone in the outlier club and this time it is me. I was highly anticipating this book after reading all the praise from readers whose tastes usually align with my own. Unfortunately, I should have DNF'd this one when very early in the book, my eyes glazed over and I began skimming pages and pages of descriptive writing. The author is a nature writer and those sections were undoubtably well-written. But I don’t care for overly descriptive writing. And then there's poetry. I skipped over those as well.
Everything other reviewers say they enjoyed were things I intensely disliked. I struggled with believability. I won't list them all, but the implausibility of every single plot point was something I couldn’t get past.
To make things worse, romance is not a genre I enjoy and the romance in this book had a very YA feel to it.
Finally, I found the use of dialect distracting to read and often in the same paragraph a character would switch from local dialect to proper English.
Sometimes my love of the story or the strength of the writing is enough for me to ignore implausibility and move past a few things I don't like. This wasn't one of those times.
Recommended for readers who enjoy long, descriptive nature writing, and those who have no trouble suspending disbelief. If I had known these things before starting this book I would have skipped it, so perhaps my review will help other readers like me.
* Thanks to Edelweiss for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
a reread before the movie comes out because, for once, a film adaptation looks amazing and i actually want to see it.
there are currently 582 people waiting for this book at my library. at first i thought that notification was a glitch; but then i read this, this impossibly tender story, and now im shocked as to why the waitlist isnt twice that.
there is a reason this book has become so sought after, and it feels like a privilege to have experienced it. this is one of the most memorable coming-of-age stories i have read in quite some time. it is a story that proves the growth of a person and the cultivation of nature are not mutually exclusive. this book is a celebration of all life, human and mother earth alike.
there is a very special connection between kya and the environment which raised her. the elegant prose and lyrical depictions of the marshlands are so beautifully comforting, guiding the reader through kyas world, just as it guided her throughout life. i cannot describe what an intimate feeling it is, to see the world through kyas eyes. its so enlightening to see someone comprehend that even though there is a harshness to surviving, there is also immense wonder and beauty.
this story is as touching as it is inspiring. and i now have a very strong desire to take an evening walk, look at the stars, and just marvel at the world in which i live.
» 4.53 across 160,000 ratings on Goodreads. » 400+ holds at my library (I actually had to buy this). » #1 on the Amazon charts. » On virtually every Book Club's reading list.
...and I can’t finish it.
I’m sorry. I do realise with those numbers it is definitely me. I read all of Part 1 and the first chapter of Part 2, then I gave up at page 156. Nothing seemed to be happening other than Kya fishing and cooking grits. There are lots of pretty nature metaphors like:
Waves slammed one another, awash in their own white saliva, breaking apart on the shore with loud booms— energy searching for a beachhead. Then they flattened into quiet tongues of foam, waiting for the next surge.
But I just don’t enjoy descriptions of trees, swamps and bugs that much.
It's funny. Usually when a book doesn't float my boat, I can still totally understand the hype. I wouldn't have called this one, though, I must admit.
I really enjoyed the parts of this book that were related to the marsh and the natural world, but the story itself did not wow me. I am definitely in the minority here - many glowing reviews, but it had a “women’s literature” flavor to me that I don’t personally care for.
A nice fiction debut for Owens; just not my cuppa.
Update July 2022: Interesting Atlantic Monthly article about Delia Owens being wanted for questioning about a murder in Zambia. It’s amazing it took so long for this story to come out, based on the high profile of this book. Fair warning, there are spoilers about this book in the article:
I'm typically skeptical of books that are hyped to high heavens and end up on every book club list for months straight, not because they aren't worthy, but because I can let my expectations get the best of me and keep me from fully enjoying a wonderful book. This book exceeded my already high expectations; it emanates a quiet power, a slow drawing in and connection of reader to book, one that I found myself able to get lost in due to the lush atmosphere and the depth of emotion. I can see now why this book is getting so much attention, and am thrilled to see that for once the hype train was right on track.
4.5 stars rounded up . A story of survival, of what the depth of loneliness feels like when a young girl is abandoned first by her mother, then her four siblings. Even at five Kya understands why they left - because of her father, because of his meanness, his abuse, his drinking. What she doesn’t understand is why they left her behind and neither could I. She remains pretty much alone since her father comes and goes until he doesn’t come back. It was gutting as she sits on the beach with the gulls not wanting them to fly away and leave her too. Heartbreaking how she is neglected and abandoned, remembering the beatings, trying to figure out a way to eat.
Atmospheric is an understatement, and I don’t use that word often because it seems overused sometimes but this place, the marsh permeates just about everything that is meaningful in this story beginning with Kya’s realization “And the marsh became her mother.” The marsh becomes her life, her livelihood, the essence of who she becomes through her self learned expertise of the insects and the birds, her art. But is it enough to heal her? The kind hearts of Jumpin’ and Mabel who help a little girl alone and in need, the only human contact she has until her brother’s friend Tate comes into her life, but is that enough to help her heal ? I love the writing, fabulous descriptions of the marsh. The marsh and its inhabitants, the insects, the fish, the birds which pique Kya’s curiosity, give her so much joy and company, and allow her to become the expert she does become on the marsh and marsh life. But is that enough to make Kya whole after so much hurt and loneliness?
There’s a murder mystery, not my usual fare, but I was totally engaged, trying to come up with who the murderer was, totally engaged in the courtroom scenes. I gave it 4.5 stars because there were a couple of things that felt not quite realistic. But when I woke up thinking about this story, I knew I would round it up to 5 stars . I don’t often cry over books, but this one definitely brought me to tears at a number of places. Overall it was such a fabulous read, heartbreaking in so many ways, with wonderful writing and characters, a stunning portrait of a place, of the trauma of loss and loneliness. My heart was always broken for Kya, a character to remember. An unforgettable ending.
This was a monthly read with Esil and Diane and as always I appreciate their thoughts as we read together. In this case, we have very similar feelings about this beautiful story.
I received an advanced copy of this book from G.P. Putnam’s Sons through Edelweiss.
I can't even imagine how this book has a 4+ star rating. The characters, including the protagonist, are so simplistic as to be unbelievable. The plot is trite. The dialog is atrocious...and offensive. A girl who basically raises herself in a swamp speaks perfect King's English while every black character "goes 'round speakin' like they done did grow up in dat dar barn." I'm 50 pages from the end, and I refuse to waste another minute reading this. Also, I usually put the books I finish in my Little Free Library, but I'm throwing this one in the recycling bin.
This book centers on a young girl named Kya who lives alone in the North Carolina marsh. The author who is well versed in non-fiction and has a strong background in nature has beautiful prose and really captures the essence of nature in her writing. Over the course of her life, Kya forms certain connections particularly with two young men from town.
When Chase Andrews, a young man from town, is found dead, Kya is a suspect. Did she do it? What happened?
This book goes into so many different topics: class, how you can really "help" someone, judging someone else, what real love is, what family is, the beauty of relationships and connection.
In many ways, this book is relatable. Most people have felt like an outsider at some point in their lives. In this book, Kya was very lucky to find some people who actually cared about her. Also, the author talks about this fear that Kya felt. This is normal. Women are normally afraid unfortunately. Always looking over our shoulder. Always told to not go out at night. Always travel with someone. If anything, I think this book is a good reminder that some things haven't changed in 50 years. Women are still beat by men, and even if they do go through the law, it does not always work out. This book.....Wow! It definitely deserved all of the buzz. That being said, I did NOT like the last 2 pages of the book. I thought that the ending should have been more open.
2023 Reading Schedule Jan Alice in Wonderland Feb Notes from a Small Island Mar Cloud Atlas Apr On the Road May The Color Purple Jun Bleak House Jul Bridget Jones’s Diary Aug Anna Karenina Sep The Secret History Oct Brave New World Nov A Confederacy of Dunces Dec The Count of Monte Cristo
At the time of reading, this book seems to be the most hyped book in my Goodreads feed. Not a minute goes by without a review or update from this book popping up. If you know me, you know that no matter the type of book or the subject matter, if it is hyped I want to give it a go. With that in mind, when I started this, the only thing I knew about it was its hype – I knew zero about the story, genre, type of book, etc. I just had a cover and a title!
Did it live up to the hype?
I think it did. I was entertained by the story and found it very easy to follow. It was a bit of historical fiction with some mystery involved eventually rounding off with a little courtroom drama. One of my favorite phrases to use when applicable is that “heart-strings were pulled”, and there was definitely some of that happening here. I think if you like a good, well-told story you will like this one.
Who do I recommend it to?
Historical fiction fans for sure. Especially those interested in mid-20th Century American fiction. Issues of race and public perception at that time are key to the plot. I am not sure there was enough mystery/courtroom drama to interest fans of those genres if that is specifically what you are looking for. But, there is enough if you just need to satiate a small hunger. Also, while only a little steamy at times, I think fans of stories with some romance will enjoy this one. Again, if you need a lot of hot a heavy in your romance, you will not find it here, but the relationships in the story should be of interest.
Should you read it?
I feel like this story has a little of a bunch of genres and not too much of any. Because of this, I think it will appeal to a wide audience. So, if you have seen the hype in your feed, too, and have been wondering, I think you should try it out. You may not be blown away, but I don’t think you will be disappointed.
Before reading this, I suggest you take two Advil because I rolled my eyes so many times while reading this I gave myself a pounding headache.
Starts out OK though from the beginning you have to suspend logic to go along with the plot; by midpoint it falls apart into a series of cliched, trite, unsupported, silly plot points. The character development, so-called, is frankly unbelievable and downright ridiculous. I’m giving it an extra star because in the age of Trump I’m trying to be kinder in general.
MEMORABLE CHARACTERS AND MEMORABLE STORY. For me to rate a book five stars it has to give me something bout of the ordinary, make me feel. Most of all it has to be a book or contain a character or characters that I won't forget. Above all it has to make me feel. This book did all three. Kya, aka Catherine Clark, the Marsh girl is an unforgettable character, abandoned by her mother at she six, her siblings shortly after. By ten she was alone in the Marsh raising herself, her main source of comfort the natural life found in the North Carolina Marsh, the gulls she fed daily. She learned not to trust nor depend on anyone but herself. She was smart, curious, feArless and so lonely. As if this character wasn't enough to remember, there are also some supporting characters that play an integral part in her life. Jumpin and Mabel, a black couple that try to help Kya in whatever way she will accept. Tate, who has known her since she was small, teaches her to read anc much more.
What will one do in the face of such loneliness? How much will they sacrifice if they reach out, trust? Prejudice is a big theme, because as the Marsh girl she is considered illiterate, unclean, and none in the village reach out to help. There is of course a villian, who claims to love her, but marries another, breaking her heart . This is there another thread comes in, a story told in alternate chapters, as when he is murdered , she is accused. Also where another wonderful character comes in, a man, 74 years old, a retired lawyer who comes out of retirement to defend her against a town that already assumes she is guilty.
I could nitpick a few things, but I won't. I loved and learned much about the natural world, a different way of looking at things. On walks I take along the river I will look at things I ordinarily wouldn't. A survival story, what Kya has to do it not easy, but since she has little choice it is what she does. Making the most of what one has, regardless of how little. More than one I had tears running down my face, so this gets five, big marshmallow stars from this reader.
This was mine, Angela and Esils August read, and as always our reads and discussions are something in which I look forward.
This starts out as a wonderful book well worth a five-start rating. The voice of the coming of age Kya is truly amazing. Had the craft been sustained through to the end of the book this could have easily been compared to, To Kill a Mocking Bird. The setting is marvelous and carries the same weight as a main character. Absolutely wonderful descriptions. The author does a magnificent job creating the character of Kya, with details that make her come alive on the page. This book would have worked fine just as a coming of age novel minus the mystery of the murder. The insertion of the secondary plotline is disruptive and breaks the flow of the story. Part of the problem is the dramatic shift in voice from Kya to the sheriff. Kya is handled masterfully, the sheriff, not so much. These disruptive scenes are kept short but they are still speed bumps that urged me to put the book down. The author is a wonderful craftsman. At about page 150 the author wanted to emphasize one part of a scene and shifted from past tense to present tense just for a few paragraphs. The transition and its impact were wonderful, and done so well it was practically invisible. The story is character driven which is my favorite kind of book, however when handling the mystery part of the story, the protagonist doesn’t dig up the clue. Two different witnesses at two different times, and long after the crime has occurred, comes forward and says, “Oh, I might have seen something that night. I just didn’t think it was important.” For me this too is a minor distraction but it could have easily been avoided. The character voice matures as the character gets older and is real and believable. This is difficult to do and the way it is done here is truly an art form. I all but put the book down three quarters of the way through when the murder case was described. I just couldn’t buy it. The quick alternating scenes in that last quarter of the book, the jail and court scenes too often disrupted the fictive dream and tossed me out of the story. There is a definite tone change that comes from a shift in the craft. The voice is lost with the shifting from character to character, too many points of view. And the use of cliché’s like “I walked into a door,” and “I jus’ didn’t fall off a turnip truck.” didn’t match the wonderful craft in the first three quarters of the book. It almost feels as if the ending had not been planned, or more likely was rushed. The ending was predictable because of the way the protagonist pov was handled (or avoided), and that there really wasn’t any other possibility, no red herrings to choose from so it left only one possible outcome. There wasn’t twist at the end. I wasn’t surprised at all. So reluctantly I have to give this one four stars instead of a five plus. David Putnam author of the Bruno Johnson series
I can’t get over how perfect this book is. The writing grabbed me from literally the first page and kept me entranced. And the story! How can your heart not help but ache for Kya? First her mother leaves, then her siblings, even her ne’er do well father. Left to her own devices by the entire town, she survives without schooling or any aid. The preacher’s wife calls her white trash and hurries her child away from Kya convinced she carries disease.
The marsh is a character in its own right. Owens does a magnificent job describing it so that we feel we are there, seeing every plant, bird and insect along with Kya. Owens paints the surroundings just like Kya paints, with a fine brush intent on getting every detail right.
There are so many heartbreaking moments in this book. Kya just can’t understand why everyone leaves her. The murder mystery was very well done and I had no clue how it would play out. The suspense was killing me.
So, this is my first five star book of 2019. It has everything - beautiful writing, great characters and suspense. Highly recommend it!
Library Overdrive Audiobook... read by Cassandra Campbell ....
Listening to this book was a ‘fantastic’ choice!!! I plan to buy the physical book, too. I want to re-read many of the sentences - see them in written book form...and own a book by Delia Owens. She’s a one-of-a-kind-author!!!
This book could easily become a modern classic!
The prose is so outstanding — gorgeous— that the smells and visuals of the wildlife — made me feel as if I was there too.
— a world with no walls— birds, nests, water, shells, mussels, grasses, trees, — — the *marshlands* - becomes a living character in this story.
Listening to this novel while being outside —surrounded by plants -birds - squirrels- trees- and water myself- added reminders of respect for the world around us....which those who spend time alone in nature know what I’m talking about: quiet transformative thoughts arise with the beauty of the ecosystems. Our human energy is tantalizingly free in ways it never is when indoors behind our computers and other technical devices.
The Audiobook narrator -Cassandra Campbell, completely transported me to this world. The voice of Kya was PERFECT!!!! She used many different inflections for each character. I wanted to know Tate Walker and Jumper...but it’s Kya Clark, who dominant my heart and thoughts. She was not only abandoned by her family - but so many in her town rejected her.
Abandonment as a child - hours upon hours of a solitary life ... playing in creeks, climbing trees, mudboarding the surface of the beach waters, digging for crabs, no parents around - is a memory which comes back to me from my own childhood....wandering outdoors...
Kya Clark is tenacious- brave - resilient- an indomitable heroine....but has flaws too... which made me like her more.
The circumstances of her unfortunate family inheritance is heartbreaking enough... but to suspect her of a crime... of murder? - it was almost hard to suspend belief. And so ugly to have a reputation as ‘swamp trash’. And how is it possible - and why - for heavens sake would a little girl kill an older bigger football player, Andrew Chase?
There is suspense in this novel that I didn’t expect or know anything about when I started reading this. I had no idea I was about to read about a murder mystery... not that it’s the prime focus.. but... so much about this book with ‘mostly’ positive reviews....were surprises to me.
Set in the 50’s and 60’s....alternating timelines.....around the North Carolina Coast marshlands .... The 60’s is the story of Andrew Chase - his body found dead: who killed him?...and a courtroom case... The 50’s is completely Kya’s story - from when her mother left - [The Dominate Story].....*Kya Clark*!!
It’s Kya we can’t stop thinking about!!!
Kya couldn’t read or write - but there is an inspiring coming of age story in here with a few Guardian Angels - so to speak who are ‘for’ Kya. We witness Kya out-shine her neglectful youth. Really emotionally moving!!!
Mystery murder - suspense - coming of age - occasional cuisine meals to remember- Nature at its best... Gulls as friends... Loneliness...heartbreaking sadness - Human connections...& Trust issues... A little romance...
Completely captivating: story & prose!!!!
*Delia Owens* will soon be a household name to readers. What in the world will she write next?
Oh how beautifully mesmerizing this book is. I’ve moved this book to the #1 spot in my list of favorite books of 2018. Thanks to my Goodreads friends Angela and Diane for bringing this book to my attention :)
This 5* book is masterfully written, with outstanding character development. That alone would be a great book but there is much more. There is a love story and mystery woven through the story, and add art and poetry to that and you have this incredible book.
Well as to the plot I will give you a little information on that, although you’ve all probably read the book blurb.
At the beginning of the story we are introduced to Kya, a 6 year old little girl who has already been traumatized for life. Her mother leaves her father and the five children and never returns. Then slowly throughout some years her older siblings leave and then finally her brother whom she was very close to and her drunken father. They leave her completely alone in their falling down shack, no provisions and barely any clothing. She was only 14, she was completely alone and had no idea how to survive, but somehow she does. She has an incredible will and she loves the marsh, it’s the only home she’s known.
She learns to fish, cook and clean just by remembering how it used to be. Barkley Cove, where she goes for groceries and gas has a store that is run by an extremely kind and generous couple who have lived on the marsh their entire life. She exchanges mussels and then smoked fish for gas for her motor and a few groceries. Mabel gives her used books, shoes, anything that she can get donated. They were her only friends.
Kya has two real love relationships in the book. Tate she has known all of her life but now that she is older she views him differently, she begins to feel real love. He teaches her how to read which opens up the world to her. He is in her life for quite a few years and she seems happy, her life is good. She loves the marsh and all that inhabit it. She collects many things and categorizes them. From the books Tate brings her she learns biology, math, how things grow and change and she is fascinated by the marsh. The author describes the marshland so well I felt myself transported there, felt the humid air, the squashing feel when I walked and encountering all of the creatures described in this book.
It’s incredible to think that this could happen but I really think there are those people who live in the marsh. Quoting from the book “this infamous marsh became a net, scooping up a mishmash of mutinous sailors, castaways, debtors, and fugitives dodging wars, taxes or laws that they didn’t take to. The ones malaria didn’t kill or the swamp didn’t swallow bred into a woodsmen tribe of several races and multiple cultures. .. . . . .two hundred years later, they were joined by runaway slaves, who escaped into the marsh and were called maroons, and freed slaves, penniless and beleaguered, who dispersed into the water-land because of scant options."
After being disappointed in her relationship with Tate she finally decides that perhaps she could be more trusting. She shares things with Chase, a boy from town who tells her he loves her, talks about a future. But everyone always leaves Kya.
Then one especially happy day for Kya, she had met with the publishers of her books, two at this time, but gets an awful message from Jumpin’ upon her return, Chase is dead. The sheriff is looking for Kya and there are rumors in town that perhaps Chase’s death was not an accident.
Oh my gosh this review is too long and there is so much more to say. I don’t want to spoil any portion of this gorgeous read. There is beautiful poetry and paintings that I felt I could see. Read this book, you will be wonderfully surprised, entranced and feel great about a book again. Read Kya’s story, she will stay with you a very long time.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley and Edelweiss.
I must be the last person on Goodreads to read this massively-popular book (and one of the few who weren't all that enamored with it!)
Why I thought this story was just okay: 1. the vividly-described biological insights of marsh wildlife along the U.S. eastern seaboard are obviously due to Ms. Owens's forte as a wildlife scientist; 2. I could understand Kya's sense of loneliness/abandonment/rejection as she wouldn't have been privy to appropriate socialization skills in her formative years; and, 3. the use of dialect (although I question if it was realistic or stereotypical?)
What made me give this story only 2 stars: 1. some scenes seemed too nicely wrapped up and tied with a bow - they lacked plausibility for me; 2. the "mystery" part was redundant to me; 3. the courtroom scenes dragged the plot; and, 4. the dialogue seemed simplistic and/or forced.
Over the years, I've read several debut novels with much more sophisticated writing in regards to plot and characterization. I think without the "murder mystery" plot line, this could have been written as a strong character-driven story. Or maybe not.