There has been so much hype about this bestselling book but for some reason I wasn’t very interested in reading it. After a year, I decided to give it a try and I am glad that I did. I was pulled right into this book from the start. It begins in North Carolina in 1952 when six year-old Kya sees her mother walk down the path from their shack in the swamp. Kya, the youngest of five children, then sees all of her siblings leave and she is left alone to survive anyway she can with their abusive, alcoholic father. Her brother, Jodie, told her to avoid their father so Kya spends her time in the swamp and marshes collecting feathers, feeding the gulls and collecting shells. When she is forced by the authorities to go to school, the other children taunt “The Marsh Girl ” and she never goes back. When he father wasn’t drinking he was tolerable and he teaches Kya to fish but his sober days are few and far between and soon he is gone, too.
The book then shifts to 1969 where Chase Andrews, a former star athlete and the son of prosperous members of their community is found dead. The police begin an investigation and the story goes back and forth from the 60’s to Kya growing up in the swamp in the 50’s and her relationship with Chase and the other members of their community.
Kya becomes friends with Tate, who loves the swamp as much as Kya does. He teachers her to read and is fascinated with the shells, bird-nests and feathers that Kya collects. She begins to paint and sketch these things she has collected from the marsh and she develops into a talented artist.
Where the Crawdads Sing has a strong sense of place. While reading it I felt like I was there with Kya as she communed with nature, drove her boat through the swamp and collected all of her precious items. The marsh and the wildlife that lived there became the family she had lost and she was more comfortable there then she was with other humans. I also got a sense of the time because there was a “colored town” where black people lived and Jumpin’ , a black man, and his wife were the only people, except for Tate, who supported Kya and looked out for her. They were wonderful characters in this book.
This book is difficult to summarize without giving away spoilers. It is part mystery, part a coming of age story and a story of survival despite unspeakable odds. It is also a story about nature and and the things that live and grow there.
It isn’t a perfect book and some people who live in North Carolina have criticized the setting as being inaccurate for the time period and that no one would have been named Chase or Tate in North Carolina in the 1960’s. It is a work of fiction so that didn’t bother me. I did have to suspend belief a little bit because of some things that happened in the book and the ending left me with some questions but that didn’t detract form this story of a girl who was deserted by almost everyone but managed to thrive.
I can see why Where the Crawdads Sing has been so popular. The setting is different, the writing is wonderful and any book that can pull me into the story right away like this one did has obviously done the same thing to other readers. If you are one of the few who have also put off reading this book, I think you should consider giving it a try. I think you will enjoy it.