10 min read ⌚
Who Should Read “Where the Crawdads Sing”? And Why?
According to the blurb, Where the Crawdads Sing should be “perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell.”
Also, it would be perfect for everyone who likes nature and detailed descriptions of it: after all, Delia Owens is a wildlife scientist by trade, and she manages to translate her passion in every single word of her debut novel.
You’ll also notice some similarities between the novel and Tara Westover’s hit biography, Educated, and even more between it and BBC’s TV series, Top of the Lake.
So, if you have read/watched and liked any of those – you should really give Where the Crawdads Sing a chance.
Delia Owens Biography
Delia Owens is an American wildlife scientist and novelist.
After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from the University of Georgia, she went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from the University of California in Davis.
Afterward, she and her husband Mark Owens auctioned almost everything they owned to go to Africa and research the Black Continent and its wildlife; they did so for the next seven years.
They shared their experiences with the world in Cry of the Kalahari, a national and international bestseller, translated into ten languages and winner of the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing.
Her next two collaborations with Mark, The Eye of the Elephant and Survivor’s Song, enjoyed similar success.
Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.
Find out more at https://www.deliaowens.com.
Christopher Scotton, the author of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, describes the genre of Owens’ debut novel as “a murder mystery/love story/courtroom drama” and sums up its plot as “a compelling tale of a forgotten girl in the unforgiving coastal marshes of North Carolina.”
That forgotten girl is the main protagonist in our story, and her name is Kya Clark, and the unforgiving coastal marshes of North Carolina are, more specifically, the surroundings of Barkley Cove in the 1960s.
So that you can orient yourself better in time and space, the book comes packed with a nice, little map which we felt obliged to include in our summary as well:
The story is told in many flashbacks and flashforwards, and it doesn’t mirror the structure below in entirety.
That is because in the novel the years aren’t actually the titles of the chapters; even so, all of the chapters include the year of the events described in them.
For our summary – since, after all, it is a summary – we grouped the chapters by year. Hopefully, in combination with the map, this will help you follow the story better.
The book begins with a beautiful two-paragraph description of a marsh, coupled with an explanation of what is the difference between it and a swamp:
Marsh is not a swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace – as though not built to fly – against the roar of a thousand snow geese.
Then within the marsh, here and there, true swamp crawls into low-lying bogs, hidden in clammy forests. Swamp water is still and dark, having swallowed the light in its 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.
On the morning of October 30, 1969 – we are suddenly informed, and our blood is chilled to the bone – the body of someone named Chase Andrews was spotted in the marshes, near the fire tower, by two boys riding their bikes in the vicinity.
We go seventeen years back in time to observe the six-year-old Kya Clark – actually Catherine Danielle Clark – running to the porch only so that she can see her Ma leaving her and her family in a long black skirt, gator heels, a blue train case in her hand.
Pa, a World War II veteran with a disability, is an abusive alcoholic. So, it’s no wonder that after the flight of Ma, all of Kya’s siblings – Murphy, Missy, Mandy, and Jodie – leave as well.
Before too long, Kya and Pa are the only ones left in the rather isolated shack erected in the vicinity of Barkley Cove.
Since Pa isn’t that interested in taking care of Kya – at least not in the usual way – Kya attends school for no more than one single day.
She barely looks like a human child, reminding her schoolmates much more of a feral kid; incapable of enduring the laughs and scorn of her schoolmates, Kya leaves school illiterate and unkempt – to never return to it again.
Even though a child, Kya is pretty independent and self-reliant; however, one day, after she takes her father’s boat, she gets lost in the lagoon.
Fortunately, a boy from the town named Tate Walker – four years her senior – notices her and helps her.
Hoping to see Tate again, Kya asks to go fishing with her father; and everything’s nice for a while. But then, a letter from her mother arrives; Kya’s Pa burns it and, ever since then, staunchly refuses to take Kya out to fishing again.
Back in 1969, we learn some more details about the death of Chase Andrews.
A former star quarterback, working at his parent’s store Western Auto at the time of his death, Chase Andrews was (as you would only expect after such a description) a pretty handsome guy who had his way with the ladies of Barkley Cove.
He was also engaged, but hey, we’re not here to judge; all we know at this point is that we’re dealing with yet another episode of the show “lest you want to sleep with the fishes, avoid sleeping with the chicks.”
After being alerted by the two boys we mentioned above – the ten-year-old Benji and Steve – the sheriff discovers traces of red wool fibers at the scene; there are no fingerprints.
Kya is 10 in 1956.
One day, her Pa leaves the shack and doesn’t come back.
Knowing full well that she’ll be taken away by social services unless she pretends that her father is still around, she does just that.
In order to earn money, she starts collecting mussels and starts selling these to a guy nicknamed Jumpin’.
Jumpin’ – who has a bait and gas shop nearby – soon realizes that Kya is in trouble.
So, he asks for some help from his wife Mabel, who mobilizes the community, collecting donations at the church and trading them for Kya’s fish.
In addition, Mabel teaches Kya how to garden and gives her some seeds so that she can start gardening.
Four years pass and Barkley Cove is filled with rumors about a certain Marsh Girl; Kya – who has learned to live well in solitude by know – unwittingly reinforces them, since she is constantly in hiding.
Not only from the social services, but also from the kids banging on her door and pranking her the way they did on her first and only day at school.
In the meantime, Kya has also mastered the art of collecting, well, everything.
One day, a boy leaves a heron feather on a tree stump in the marsh; before too long, Kya starts communicating with him via feathers.
Soon enough, she learns of his identity: it’s none other than the only warm human being she has ever met: Tate.
Tate not only gives Kya many useful things (spark plug, seeds, etc.), but he also teaches her to read. And when their meetings alert the social services, he also suggests to her that she leaves the shack and go “where the crawdads sing”:
‘What d’ya mean, where the crawdads sing? Ma used to say that.’ Kya remembered Ma always encouraging her to explore the marsh: ‘Go as far as you can — way out yonder where the crawdads sing.’
Tate said, ‘Just means far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters.’
Kya is 14 years old in 1960 and is very beautiful; one day, as Tate talks about his younger sister and his mother who died in a car crash, the two kiss.
The romance lasts for a while, but Tate has to leave for college; he tells Kya that he’ll be back for her in a month.
However, he’s not.
Heartbroken, Kya moves on.
By 1965, another guy has developed a crush on Kya.
And that guy is who else if not Chase Andrews – the one with whose dead body we started off our journey.
Chase invites Kya on a picnic date, but he’s just too sexually aggressive for Kya to accept his advances; so she runs off.
However, Chase is stubborn and continues to pursue Kya, even taking her to the fire tower next to which his body had been found.
Finally, he gets the girl.
To make matters more complicated, in the meantime, Tate – now a 23-year-old graduate – comes back for Kya.
We learn that he actually did the same thing five years back, but that he backed off at the final minute, realizing that Kya did not fit in with his world.
However, his new realization (namely, that this was a serious mistake) comes a bit too late: after coming back from Chapel Hill, he finds out that Kya is with Chase now.
Among other things, Kya gives Chase a shell necklace made by her; Chase promises to treasure it as long as he lives.
Chase’s mother, Patti, reveals to the police that, in fact, he did just that: Chase had Kya’s shell necklace on him at all times, every single day.
However, the coroner reveals that it was not found on the body, making Kya a suspect, especially after one man mentions that he had seen her in the vicinity on the night of Chase’s murder.
The police get a search warrant for her house.
Unfortunately, inside they find a red wool hat.
Let’s cover the interim period, between Chase wooing Kya, Tate returning from Chapel Hill and the events leading up to the murder of Chase.
A few years before the last thing happened, Chase had asked Kya’s hand in marriage. Soon after, Kya was visited by Tate – who wanted, you know, to apologize and explain himself.
However, during that visit, Tate noticed Kya’s nature diagrams and offered to help her find a publisher. Subsequently, he did do just that, and Kya had her first book published.
In the meantime, she also discovers an unpleasant truth – namely, that Chase is still a ladies’ men and probably engaged.
In 1968, another significant thing happens: Jodie, Kya’s brother, returns to Barkley Cove.
Even though her last sighting of him was when she was barely a six-year-old child, Kya recognizes him due to a scar on his face – Pa’s work, of course.
Jodie returns after happening upon Kya’s book; he tells her that their mother is dead, having died two years before his return.
Kya is arrested soon after Chase Andrews’ murder: all the evidence points to her and the fact that Chase tried raping Kya a month before his death gives her a clear motive.
Two months after being put in jail, the trial of Kya begins.
After her publisher testifies that he had dinner with her on the night of the murder, she is finally found not guilty, and Chase’s murder is ruled an accident.
However, the trial leaves Kya disillusioned with the city: Tate is the only one actually caring about her and visiting her in jail.
Kya realizes that Tate was the one all along and that she too had made a mistake.
The sad news about the death of Tate’s father reunites the two, and they start a life together.
Where the Crawdads Sing Epilogue
Of course, this is not a fairytale, so Tate and Kya do not have the luxury of living happily ever after.
However, they do remain together for the next four decades when Kya passes away, aged 64; at the bequest of Tate, her headstone is inscribed thus: “The Marsh Girl.”
After Kya’s death, Tate looks through her possessions and comes across a hidden compartment filled with many poems signed Amanda Hamilton, a popular local poet.
Among them, there’s one describing the murder of Chase, and, inside it, Tate finds Chase’s missing shell necklace.
Amanda Hamilton was actually Kya’s pseudonym, and Chase’s murderer was none other than her!
Tate drops the necklace in the ocean and burns all of Kya’s poems, deciding to bury the secret with him.
Like this summary? We’d like to invite you to download our free 12 min app for more amazing summaries and audiobooks.
“Where the Crawdads Sing PDF Quotes”Autumn leaves don't fall, they fly. They take their time and wander on this their only chance to soar. Click To Tweet His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman. Click To Tweet Why should the injured, the still bleeding, bear the onus of forgiveness? Click To Tweet Time ensures children never know their parents young. Click To Tweet Sand keeps secrets better than mud. Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
Where the Crawdads Sing is yet another one of those exceptional books you are more than sure should get a movie adaptation even while you read them.
It has everything in it: romance, murder mystery, courtroom drama, a few unexpected twists!
Unsurprisingly, its rights have already been bought and, by the end of this year, there should be a movie of the same title.
Read the book before that: that’s one decision you won’t regret.