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June 22, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Anne Paddock

Never run in town or people’ll think you stole something.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the first book of fiction published by Delia Owens, an author known more for the non-fiction books (The Eye of the Elephant, Cry of the Kalahari, and Secrets of the Savanna) she co-authored with Mark Owens about her experiences as a wildlife scientist in Africa.  With the same attention to detail and observation made in previous books, Owens writes a coming of age novel about a young girl growing up in the marshlands of North Carolina in the 1950’s and 60’s, which is rumored to be partially autobiographical. 

Kya, the protagonist, is the youngest child of an alcoholic father and a mother who abandoned the family. With her older siblings gone, 6-year old Kya has to learn to fend for herself in a small, quiet town on the coast of North Carolina known more for its marshlands than its ability to take care of its own.

The book is a survival of the fittest story that shows the power of knowledge gained from the experience of living free as opposed to in the classroom and will often remind readers of the difference between book smart and street smart. It’s what happens when a child has to rely on nature as opposed to adults as allies; it’s what happens when the odds are against you but the will to survive is stronger.

On the first page of the book, the reader learns the body of Chase Andrews was found in the swamp. It’s 1969 and Kya is grown up but living in her family’s small shack in the marshlands. Alternating chapters between the past (1950’s and early 1960’s) and 1969, the author tells the story of Kya’s childhood, teenage, and young adult years leading up to the central question of the novel:  Who killed Chase Andrews and why?

The beauty of Where the Crawdads Sing is the author’s ability to convey what life was like in the marshlands of North Carolina to the reader. Just as Kathryn Stockett in “The Help” showed readers what life was like in Mississippi in the 1960’s, Owens opens up the world of rural, coastal North Carolina in the middle of the 20th century when racism, class consciousness, and economic opportunity (or lack of) were simmering just below the surface of everyday life.

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