✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Author: Delia Owens
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2018
Content warnings: Child neglect, child abuse, domestic abuse, alcoholism, racism, attempted rape, animal death and murder.
Referred to as “Marsh Girl”, Kya is known in her small community for being wild, weird and mysterious. The suspicion surrounding her grows when she becomes the main suspect in a grisly murder of a local resident.
What I liked
- Environmental setting
- Writing style
- The focus on nature
What I disliked
- Rushed and underwhelming ending
- Plot conveniences
- Lack of character development
- The main character being a Mary Sue
- The lack of critical engagement with some of the heavier themes of the book (e.g. child abuse and neglect)
Plot and Structure
The story follows the main character Kya from childhood into adulthood, peeling back the layers of her complicated family history and way of life as an adult. Whilst the plot is a murder mystery, the book is a unique and odd mish-mash of genres and themes. It explores difficult themes such as child abuse and neglect, social isolation and prejudice but also heavily features nature/the biological sciences and romance. First and foremost, this book is about Kya’s experience in the world as an outsider and how her early life experiences shape who she becomes as an adult.
Structurally, it is split into two main timelines; one following Kya’s childhood and upbringing and the second the murder case in the present. However, it does jump across the timeline of Kya’s life throughout. The first half is more focused on Kya’s childhood and upbringing whilst the second half switches its focus to the murder case. Sometimes, it felt like the story didn’t quite flow in parts because of this choppiness. One moment it was following police officers involved in the case and the next it was back to Kya as a girl in the cabin in the marsh.
The plot was fairly predictable and the murder mystery wasn’t much of a mystery. Anybody that has read books with a similar structure will know how the story will end. Unfortunately, the ending did feel rushed and the conclusion to the murder mystery was underwhelming. In fact, I think that this entire plot could’ve been removed and the book would’ve been better for it. The murder sub-plot felt like an unnecessary addition to the story and there wasn’t enough time to really dig into the significance of that for the characters.
I was captured by the setting and tone of the book and it was exactly what I needed at the time I read it. I found it easy to sink into Kya’s odd world but couldn’t ignore its flaws, particularly around certain elements of the plot development that were far-fetched. Despite being set in our world, the story didn’t feel plausible or grounded in reality. However, it had certain things that I personally vibe with in books, so the lack of plausibility with the plot didn’t hinder my enjoyment of reading it too much.
Although the writing style wasn’t amazing, it was immersive. I particularly enjoyed the emphasis on setting and imagery. I’m a huge nature lover so the descriptions of the marsh, ocean, beach and surrounding settings were captivating and made me feel very grounded in the setting. The focus on setting also made it very atmospheric and created a gothic undertone to the story which I enjoyed.
However, I did find some of the use of metaphor to be poor. I also disliked the way that a regional Southern dialect was used inconsistently and promoted racism and classism. Racism and classism had a place in the story with it being set in the Deep South in the 1960s, but the author didn’t critically engage with this within the text and it felt very lazy to me.
Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.
Characters and Relationships
Kya is a complicated character to analyse. I think many readers would describe her as a complex character, but she felt like a Mary Sue to me. She suffered immensely and endured awful abuse and neglect, yet turned out to be a very talented, intelligent, self-sufficient and compassionate adult. She had issues that plagued her as a result of what she endured but they were glossed over for the most part. As a character, Kya was defined by her trauma and passion for nature. Overall for such a character driven story, there wasn’t much character there to drive anything.
There were two main romantic relationships in the book. Both had some likeable aspects to them but one relationship stood out to me. Kya’s relationship with one of her partner’s was well developed and probably one of the highlights of the book for me. Their genuine connection, his acceptance for Kya and the way he embraced her world whilst also trying to ground her in the real world was nice to read. The romance definitely took up a significant portion of the book, more than I expected, and at times it overshadowed other aspects of the story. One of the relationships, in particular, felt forced and like a plot convenience more so than anything else.
Where the Crawdads Sing is a captivating read due to the atmospheric, environmental setting and isolated nature of the main character Kya and the marsh setting. The writing style is immersive and touches on complex themes around trauma, neglect and abuse. However, the book is let-down by a lack of depth or critical engagement with these themes. They’re dangled to shock readers but nothing meaningful is done with them and the character development suffers as a consequence. Whilst the simple structure and plot allows for an enjoyable and easy reading experience, the plot is predictable and the ending rushed, leaving some significant aspects of the plot and character development unfinished. Despite this, the book succeeds in providing a digestible and entertaining story that takes familiar structure, plot and characters from multiple genres and executes them well.
I’d recommend Where the Crawdads Sing if:
You’re looking for an entertaining character focused story that features heavy descriptions of nature and incorporates elements from multiple genres including historical fiction, romance, murder mystery, family drama, literary fiction and more…
Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.