Where the Crawdads Sing
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Where the Crawdads Sing is the debut novel of Delia Owens. Published in 2018 by Putnam, her novel is a New York Times bestseller and a selection of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club. Set in the marshes of coastal North Carolina from the 1940s to the 2000s, the novel is Southern literary fiction that tells the story of Kya, a little girl who comes of age alone after her family abandons her.
In Part 1: “The Marsh,” two boys discover the body of hometown hero Chase Edwards in the marshes on the outskirts of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, in 1969. Suspicion immediately falls on “the Marsh Girl,” or Catherine “Kya” Clark, a reclusive young woman who has lived in the marsh alone since her family abandoned her.
In a flashback, we learn how Kya came to be the Marsh Girl. In 1952, Marie Jacques Clark, Kya’s mother, leaves the family to escape the physical and verbal abuse of Jake Clark, Kya’s father. Jake disappears in 1956, leaving Kya to fend for herself. During this period in her life, Kya befriends and later falls in love with Tate Walker, a boy who also loves the marsh. Their romance continues until Tate abandons Kya for college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Part 2: “The Swamp,” opens in 1965, when Kya is a beautiful nineteen-year-old. Kya is receptive when Chase, then a star football player, notices her and aggressively pursues her. She makes him a shell necklace that he constantly wears, and the two begin dating after Chase promises to wait until Kya is ready to have sex with him. In 1966, Kya takes her first trip out of town when Chase drives her to Asheville. They stay in a motel. That night, they have sex for the first time, after which Chase disappears for a few weeks. Kya’s relationship with Chase ends when she finds out he is engaged to be married to another woman.
Tate contacts Kya and attempts to apologize to her, but she refuses to accept the apology. She does allow Tate to take several of her drawings to a publisher, who publishes them as a book in 1968, allowing Kya to buy her family’s land with her royalties.
The novel returns to the present, when the sheriff and the deputy begin closing in on Kya as Chase’s murderer. They have found clues and received information from the townspeople about a relationship between the two. When they discover that Chase assaulted Kya, they arrest her, believing she killed him out of revenge.
Kya is tried for Chase’s murder. She refuses to plea bargain for a lesser sentence than the death penalty, even though the prejudice in the town against people from the marsh is so prevalent. Kya does have an alibi—she took the bus to Greenville, North Carolina, to meet with her editor about another book—which puts her outside of town the night Chase was murdered. The fact that many townspeople saw her get on the bus and return, along with the prosecution’s shoddy evidence, convinces the jury to acquit her.
Kya eventually marries Tate. They live a long, peaceful life together on the marsh until Kya dies when she is 64. After her death, Tate discovers a cache of poems written by “A.H.,” who turns out to be Kya. One of the poems is a description of Kya murdering Chase. Tate burns the poems.