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Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing (2018) is a first novel by Delia Owens that tells the story of Kya, a young girl abandoned by her mother, then her elder siblings, and later her abusive father. She's left to fend for herself on a piece of swampland in North Carolina. The narrator once or twice compares her to a feral child, well in tune with the natural environment around her, fearful and distrusting of human contact but naturally in need of it as well. Other people enter her life, three men in particular: Jumpin', a kind man who sells her gas and with his wife provides her with basic necessities; Tate Walker, who falls in love with her and becomes something like her teacher; and Chase Andrews, the town jock. The narrative is composed of two interwoven timelines which converge towards the end. We know that Chase is dead from the beginning (told through the later timeline), perhaps murdered, and from this comes elements of mystery and courtroom drama.

One line reads: Being isolated was one thing; living in fear, quite another. This reflects somewhat of a divider line, as the first half of the book (which I thought was more poignant than the latter) is about isolation and basic survival whereas in the second half Kya struggles against the dangers presented by a man and the prejudices of residents of the nearby Barkley Cove, many of whom call her The Swamp Girl.

The book is good. The story arc is smooth. The descriptions of nature are excellent, and there's a steady narrative flow from start to finish. However, I don't think Owens dives so deeply into the main themes, such as isolation and how "the other" is treated, in this case a girl in a swamp, black people living near the main town, and women in general. Or, rather, there are many feelings described in the context of abandonment and isolation but few heavy consequences shown through action. At times, too, the book felt a bit like a cheesy romance novel, when I was hoping for a more daring or edgy approach to these relationships. And I was interested in how Kya's language would've been affected by her isolation, a theme I'd expect a novel to delve into, but, again, the story doesn't go so deeply into this. Overall, I liked the book but wanted more, and expected a harder-hitting middle and end.


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