SPOILER ALERT: Please note that this review will discuss the novel in detail and include spoilers for those who have not finished reading.
Delia Owens’s first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, is a unique coming-of-age tale of love, murder, mystery and the unlikely lessons (and limits) of what nature can teach us about how to be human.
There is so much that I adored about this novel, including the setting, the writing, the characters and the way Owens used the storyline to explore themes of loneliness, love, loss, rejection and the concept of ‘the outsider’.
At times it takes a painfully close look at loneliness, especially when viewed through the eyes of an abandoned child. Kya’s loneliness is the thread that runs throughout the novel and follows her into her teenage years and adulthood. It is expressed so beautifully in the poems she pens throughout the story, unbeknownst to the reader, and it underpins many of the choices she makes.
Kya is constantly balancing her fear of further rejection with her desire to tend to her loneliness. It is the driving force behind her decision to enter into a relationship with Chase. A decision that starts a chain of events that ultimately lead them both to the firetower on that fateful night.
Running alongside this thread of loneliness is the everpresent marsh. It is Kya’s sanctuary, but also a source of comfort, friendship, a parent and a teacher. Owens manages to flip the nature vs nurture debate on its head and allows us to think on what happens when nature nurtures a child into adulthood.
The marsh is the one constant in Kya’s life, it ties each period of her life together but it can only take her so far. Outside of the influence of the marsh, Tate’s care, love and concern for Kya is the most powerful shaping element in Kya’s life. He gifts her knowledge that nature can’t. Tate teaches her to read, encourages her artistic talents and sets her on a path that allows her to reach financial independence.
In spite of all this, I really struggled to emotionally connect with the ending of Kya’s story for a number of reasons.
I had high expectations for an emotionally charged ending, but I was left feeling rather unsatisfied. Kya’s death didn’t move me and I think that is partly because I didn’t feel Tate’s loss as keenly as I would have if the events following the trial had differed.
I had been anticipating a grand reunion, but the joy of that moment was stolen by the death of Tate’s father and Kya’s absence from the funeral. A choice that I think was consistent with her character, but meant that their reconciliation fell flat for me.
For the bulk of the novel we are taken through two different timelines in Kya’s life in great detail but when it comes to her life with Tate it was written lightly and at pace. Many of the questions I have about Chase’s murder remain unresolved. I had suspected Kya was guilty after she mentioned “taking care” of Chase in her internal dialogue from her cell, but the trial convinced me that she really didn’t have time to murder him. So how did she do it?
I am also trying to figure out why she chose to take (and keep) the necklace. Was it a sense of reclaiming herself from him? Or something else entirely? Did she ever feel guilt or remorse for taking his life? Or was she simply using the lessons of survival she’d seen played out in nature throughout the course of her life?
Regardless of my disappointments with the ending, I thoroughly enjoyed escaping into Kya’s world. I am left with vivid images of the North Carolina marsh and a reminder of the life and beauty of nature that unfolds around us all day, every day. It’s there for those who take the time to pause and really see it – a lesson I not only take from Owens’s novel, but also from the confinement of this pandemic.
1. How did the North Carolina marsh setting shape the novel and how did it impact your reading of it?
2. In what ways does growing up in isolation affect Kya? Has your recent experiences with self-isolation during this pandemic impacted your reading of the novel?
3. Contrast Kya’s relationships with Chase and Tate. How do they differ? What does each relationship teach Kya about love?
4. Kya’s observations of nature shape her vision of the world. On page 142, Kya watches the fireflies near her shack, and notices that the females can change their flashes to signal different things. What does it teach her about relationships? How does this lesson influence Kya’s decisions in the second half of the novel?
5. Loneliness is a key theme in the book. How does Kya handle her loneliness and what does it teach us about the importance of human connection and love?
6. Do you see Kya as a victim? Why or why not? How did your opinion of her change over the course of the book?
7. Kya’s lawyer, in his closing speech to the jury, laid bare the town’s failure to care for Kya when she was a child abandoned by her family. Do you think the people of Barkley Cove failed Kya and what could they have done differently?
8. What role does poetry play in the book? Did the revelation of the true author of the poems alter your understanding of them?
9. Why do you think Chase appears to treasure Kya’s necklace but treats her with such little care? When we discover that Kya reclaimed the necklace at his death and holds onto it herself, why do you think she does that?
10. How did you feel about the ending of the book? Were you disappointed, surprised, satisfied? Was there anything that felt unresolved for you or that you would change?