WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens is a murder mystery, romance and courtroom drama, part poetry, part naturalist's fantasy, and a runaway bestseller. The novel takes place in the coastal marshes of North Carolina, and alternates between two timelines. One is the story of Kya (A.K.A. Marsh Girl), the other the search for who killed a man found dead in the mud.
In Kya's timeline, the six-year-old girl is abandoned—first by her mother, then all her siblings, and finally by her alcoholic mess of a father. The wonder of it is how she manages not only to survive alone out there in the run-down family shack, deep in the coastal marshes, but how she thrives.
She gets a little help from young Tate, who teaches her to read and write; and Jumpin', who runs the boat dock/gas station/mini market. But it's Kya who learns to fish and harvest mussels and oysters to sell, and Kya who knows to hide from the truant officer and anyone else she doesn't care to deal with.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is Delia Owens' first novel, but she's the bestselling author of two non-fiction books about her life in Africa as a wildlife biologist. Her obvious love and understanding of nature are what made this novel special for me.
I acknowledge that, as some Amazon reviewers said, it strains belief that a little girl could survive, and that nobody would step in and help, and that in all those years nothing broke that she couldn't fix. Also, as a student of the art of writing, I wondered how that strong southerner's dialect made it past the editors. But as a reader, I wasn't bothered at all.
Perhaps because Kya's story so mimics my dreams of a life merged with nature, I was happy to suspend disbelief for the opportunity to soak in those marshes with her. I especially love Kya's relationship with the flock of seagulls she feeds daily, and sometimes settles in to sleep with.
This book is sold for adults, but could easily be given to a high schooler or even a middle grader.