I finished reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens on a weekend in Bath with some friends last weekend and I couldn’t get into the car to leave until I’d finished it. I even had to cover up the final paragraphs with my hand to make sure I didn’t read too fast and skip to the end.
It is set in the marshlands of the North Carolina coast in the 1950s and 1960s, and the beauty of the landscape and its wildlife is juxtaposed with the extreme rural poverty that Kya, the protagonist, grows up in. Known by the small-minded locals as ‘the marsh girl’ she is ostracised by the white middle-class community of small-town ’50s America, and looked out for by a black family who own the local boat refuelling station. Her own family quite literally abandon her and leave her to fend for herself, to grow up amongst the birds of the marshland, and she makes ends meet by selling the mussels she collects in exchange for basic food.
Kya manages to escape the lacklustre interest of teachers and social services but is regularly taunted by the local rich kids, who come to tag her hut as a dare. She is otherwise left quite alone, until she finally lets a local boy get close to her. When he helps her to learn to read she is able to put into words her rich, scientific knowledge of the marsh. Just as she is establishing a successful career from the safety of the marsh, small town cruelties return to jeopardise everything.
This novel is so beautifully written, is so clever and is such a page turner. I am very glad I found it when wondering what to read as I came out of lockdown and refreshed my reading list.