Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens


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Book Review

For years, rumors about Kya Clark swirled around the quiet fishing village of Barkley Cove. Barefoot and wild, they called her the “Marsh Girl.” And when something unthinkable happens and a young man is found dead, it’s Kya the Marsh Girl they blame.

Plot Summary

Kya Clark, known by some locals as the “Marsh Girl,” grew up in a swamp. And that makes her, well, “swamp trash” as far as most folks in the North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove are concerned.

One by one, starting with her mother, Kya’s family members all ran off to escape Kya’s intolerable father. And then he ran off, too.

Though she’s been virtually alone from the time she was 6, Kya can never quite stifle her need for human connection. Of course, connecting with people is not easy for a girl living by her lonesome in a swamp. But the one thing she can embrace is the wild, natural world around her. And she tries to understand every relationship through her experience with nature, which causes her to have an unsettling effect on almost all the people she interacts with.

The main exception is Tate Walker, a local boy who befriends her as she turns from child to teenager. Kya’s wildness is beautiful to him, and he compassionately teaches her to read. The pair understand each other because of their mutual appreciation for the marsh, but Kya’s upbringing has put her on a collision course with polite society.

That collision effectively blows up when a former star quarterback and town hot shot named Chase Andrews turns up dead in the marsh. Inconclusive evidence and a romantic run-in are all the townspeople need to start pointing fingers.

And the Marsh Girl is everyone’s top suspect.

Christian Beliefs

It’s said that the town “serves its religion hard-boiled and deep fried.” Kya knows about three white churches and two black churches in the area. One of these black churches helps provide her with clothes, but a white preacher’s wife tells her daughter that Kya is dirty and to stay away.

Several scenes show that Kya feels she is not presentable enough for God, and that Christianity tends to be about religious rituals and posturing.

Other Belief Systems

The evolution of people from animals is implied, and animalistic instincts are a major part of Kya’s worldview. In fact, Kya’s  connection with the Earth and mother nature is akin to worship.

Authority Roles

The glaring lack of authority in Kaya’s life during most of her development as a child, teenager, and young adult is integral to the plot of Where the Crawdads Sing. Arguably, nature itself is her most positive authority figure.

Kya’s dad is abusive and an alcoholic. He relies on a 7-year-old girl to do his cleaning and to cook for herself when her mother, and then older siblings, leave. Throughout the story, Kya’s father is unreliable and he teaches her to deeply mistrust others.

Her mother is shown as a loving figure, but she failed Kya by leaving. Kya’s memories of her fade, and someone later explains that the woman was mentally ill.

Kya’s older brother, Jodie, teaches her a few things about how to survive in the marsh and how to deal with their violent dad, until he leaves in fear of their father.

Kya eventually considers a man named “Jumpin” to be her closest authority figure. He is a kind, protective and consistent presence who gives her basic supplies.

Profanity & Violence

The dialogue includes scattered foul language, especially while Kya’s dad is around, including several occurrences of the s-word and “b–—ch” in various forms. A few strong racial slurs are directed at African American characters. The f-word is used a few times in reference to an article on animals.

The novel addresses physical abuse. Kya’s family suffers at the hands of her dad in varying levels of detail throughout. Kya remembers being struck by a belt and a paddle. Her brother is stabbed in the face with a fire poker. Police officers discover that Chase died because he was pushed from a fire tower. A man assaults Kya, and she beats him badly in self-defense.

Kya’s dad drinks heavily. Chase’s drinking is mentioned.

Two police officers speculate that Chase may have been involved with drugs, which led to his death.

Sexual Content

The sexual content in this book is intense, adult and problematic. Kya’s sexually charged encounters with her first love are described in detail, and it includes nudity. The pair’s longing for one another is clear, and the sexually explicit content is comparable to that of an R-rated movie.

Throughout the book, Kya contemplates the mating rituals of various animals and, sometimes, the resulting violence between mates. Later, Kya has sex with another man after his repeated advances, and he treats her roughly. After their consensual relationship ends, he assaults her and attempts to rape her.

Discussion Topics


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Additional Comments

Where the Crawdads Sing will draw the attention of young readers because of the public praise for the novel as well as the fact that it’s been made into a major motion picture. And this book does explore some deep themes, including the longing that all people, especially women, have for sustaining connection with others, platonically and romantically.

That said, the heavy sexual content, violence, and language here make this an ill-advised read for young people. Even adults should approach this novel with caution and be aware of its content.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Marsella Evans