Southern Library Required Reading: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Recently I started participating in the Reese Witherspoon Hello Sunshine Book Club reads, and my second read was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I had not picked this book up yet, mostly because I had had such an extensive to read pile, and because I wasn’t sure whether it would turn out to be a fluff novel, which I don’t generally enjoy reading. Boy was I overwhelmingly surprised and delighted when I read this book. Before I summarize and offer my personal thoughts, I’ll just take a moment to say that you NEED to purchase this book if you haven’t done so already. It is available in hardback, Kindle, and Audio formats. I’ll offer links at the end of this post.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautiful coming of age story about a young girl who grows up in the salt marshes of North Carolina. Facing abandonment, lack of education and terror of social exposure, Kya (the young girl) learns to survive almost entirely on her own. She navigates learning to find food, puberty, finding ways to earn a small living and preserving her remote lifestyle and home. Along the way she discovers friendship, love, heartbreak and abuse as she blossoms into an enigmatic woman. Woven into her story is the mystery of a local death that may or may not be related back to her, creating a fear driven struggle for Kya to remain hidden away. At the same time, she faces the ever encroaching fingers of society as developers move to encroach upon the salt marshes, creating a reflection of the wild and unruly land itself needing to remain hidden from the world that would aim to tame it.

Kya’s story resonated with me in so many ways as I read this book. I actually recently had read The Gulf, which I’ll be writing about later, but the setting of the salt marshes really rang back to some of the greater issues presented in The Gulf about trying to retain the wilderness of the salt marshes. Anyone who has grown up in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida or Louisiana is instantly familiar with the environment that is meant when I say salt marshes. Kya’s home is a small cracker cabin tucked away in the scrubby underbrush that borders salt marsh tidal flats. I was able to quickly paint in my mind the scene of palmettos, scrub brush, old hanging oaks and and pines, and their gentle recession as characters approached the shell dense shorelines followed by creeks winding in and out of grasses and islands of dense foliage. Kya becomes very deeply fascinated with the bird life that surrounds her and this is also easily pictured by anyone familiar with tidal flats. Herons, Cranes, Songbirds, Raptors, Pelicans, Ducks and Grebes can all be seen in the salt marshes of the Southeast. The Gulf spends a lot of time tracing the history of the Gulf Coast Salt Marshes and their interruption caused by human greed. Kya’s salt marshes face some of this same greed, while she herself faces the relentless need of society to force conformity on both people and places. I felt myself wanting to fight with her for her freedom, as well as the freedom of where she lives.

The love stories that Kya lives are also very profound, and heartbreaking. Her first loves are her parents, both of whom abandon her at a very young age. She is left with one semi-friend who later becomes one of her romances, and the gracious generosity of a black couple who run a fishing camp. Later Kya discovers romantic love, the desolation of heartbreak, the confusion and despair that can be found in abuse, and the search for trust in a companion after so much loss. Her story is incredibly moving, and I foresee a beautiful movie in the future. You absolutely have to read the book first though.

This book is Delia Owens’ debut. Can you imagine what is to come from her? I do hope that we continue to see such beautiful southern novels, not just from her, but from other authors in the future. I felt like I was living in the environments that I grew up in. The book can be purchased on Amazon. Below, you can read a brief intro of the book, and follow the links to purchase from Amazon. I know you will love it!

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