By: Delia Owens
“Autumn leaves don’t fall; they fly. They take their time and wander on this, their only chance to soar.”
Let me begin by saying I absolutely loved this book. I was incredibly attached to this story from the very beginning. The writing was incredible, detailed and moving.
What was this story about…
Where the Crowdads Sing revolves around a young girl named Kya, who lived in the marshes of North Carolina. These marshes are close to a small town called Barkley Cove. We are introduced to Kya as a young girl, and we follow her through her life. Her family moved to the marshes during the 1940s; there were 5 children and their parents. Kya is the youngest in the family. Quite early on, we learn about how abusive her father is to her mother and the children. One by one, each family member decides to leave home. Kya is too young to remember much about the oldest three siblings; they go when she is very young. Eventually, Kya’s mother leaves; we understand that this is not the first time her mother has left, which gives Kya the hope that her mother will return. However, there is something different this time that brings Kya this horrible feeling that her mother won’t be coming back. The closest relationship Kya seems to have is with her brother, Jodie. He tries to bring some normalness into her life. Eventually, though, Jodie also cannot stay and live with their father anymore. He apologizes to Kya and then also leaves her.
It’s at this point where Kya begins to live alone with her dad in the marsh. However, Kya spends most of her days alone since her dad usually leaves for multiple days at a time. Kya’s father hasn’t abused her like he did the other children, and for a short time, after everyone has left, he starts to be quite nice to Kya. Eventually, this friendliness ends, and then he too leaves her for good. During this time, Kya is also being sought after by the local school. She legally must attend school; therefore, the principal is coming to find her. Kya decides to go with the principal and spends one day at the school. This day does not go well; she is starred at by her peers; she doesn’t have proper clothes or shoes and already feels very behind from the other kids. After that day, every time the principal came to find her, she would hide. Kya knows the marsh better than anyone; therefore, finding her was impossible. Eventually, the school stopped trying.
Near the beginning of the book, we are introduced to a black man named Jumpin. He is a friend of Kya’s father, but once Kya’s father leaves the marsh, Jumpin becomes a father figure to Kya. Jumpin’s wife, Mabel, also cares for Kya and tries to help her by providing her with donated clothes and food. This book is set in the 50s and 60s, and therefore, segregation is widespread, including in Barkley Cove. The black community cares for Kya much more than any of the white people in the town. The white community treat her like a leper who is to be avoided at all costs. No one thinks about caring for this little girl; instead, they isolate her even more.
As Kya gets older, she begins to wonder about the other teenagers in the town; she specifically notices her interest in the boys. There are two love interests that Kya gets involved with. Both are offering her very different versions of love and care. It is from one of these experiences that the community turns on her, accusing her of murder with very little evidence.
I really enjoyed reading this story. It was a very different story about a small part of American history that I know almost nothing about. The story made me curious to learn more about the marshes of North Carolina. I learned that these marshes have a deep history of providing isolation and safety to different groups of people throughout American history, beginning with freed or escaped slaves. They built homes and communities in the marshes. The marshes grew in popularity again during the Great Depression and after the War by white families who had lost everything, which is where Kya’s family fits. It was enjoyable learning about this time in history; I always like it when a book brings me into another part of the past.
The characters in this book represented so many different types of interesting people. Each one playing a crucial role in Kya’s story. Kya’s two love interests were extraordinarily different, and understanding how Kya’s relationship with each man forms and grows reminds us of how complicated love can be, especially when you feel alone in the world. The people who live in town talk negatively about Kya, further isolating her from her love interests. It is unfortunate to see how this community treats Kya from such a young girl and onwards, for no other reason than she was different than everyone else. The horrible manner of this community comes to fruition during the murder trial Kya is dragged into.
I enjoyed learning about the black community, specifically Jumpin and Mable, and seeing their love for Kya. It is clear they have a good understanding of how Kya may feel, and they know they don’t want to cause the same hurt to Kya that the people of Barkley Cove cause them. This is more clearly seen during Kya’s trial, where Jumpin and Mabel attend in support of Kya. This was a very powerful moment in the story when Jumpin and Mabel come and sit in the assumed “white” sections of the courtroom.
It is clear the writer has a biology background in how she describes the nature surrounding Kya. It is incredibly descriptive and clear; you can picture everything she is saying and imagine how Kya fits into that world. I must admit, at times, it did become tiring reading about all the specifics of the marshlands. However, I understand its importance to the story. It was fascinating to see Kya’s resiliency living in the marsh and how she becomes one with nature.
The second half of the book was difficult to read and heartbreaking to imagine. Although this was not a true story, we know this prejudice occurred for many innocent people in the past. People are always fearful of the unknown and Delia Owens does a great job in showing this in Where the Crawdads Sing.
“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.” – Good Reads Delia Owens Description