Where The Crawdads Sing is literally a work of art in modern literature. It is a story of survival, resilience, love, loss, friendships, hope, loneliness, abandonment, strength, and prejudice. The story goes back and forth depicting the life of Kya Clark, also known as the Marsh girl. Living in the marsh for all her life, Kya is constantly the subject of prejudice. Why I say it’s work of art is because it has everything – a lovely young girl, her strength that later becomes her achievements, a murder mystery, beautiful descriptions of the marsh, and a love story.
Kya Clark was six when her mother just walked out on her, never to return. Soon after, all her siblings leave too. The only person who is still in the house is her Pa, who is alcoholic and abusive. Even at that age, Kya figures out why they left without taking her. But what she does not understand is why they left her behind. She learns to cook, clean, shop for the groceries, and earn money to buy her daily necessities. She raises herself on her own while dealing with loneliness and abandonment.
As the years’ pass and Kya start growing into a teen, she begins exploring the marsh in her father’s boat. She learns more about life through her interactions with the living of the swamp and the people she calls her friends – Jumping’ and his wife, Mabel. She learns about the different challenges of being a woman, her first period, and her feelings for the two boys. Soon her father also disappears, and Kya is left on her own, in the care of nature. She struggles with her fear to be taken away, by the social workers who might put her in foster care.
Among the feelings of loneliness, fear, and abandonment, Kya also struggles with the prejudice of the town. People avoid her and do not engage themselves in talking to her. They don’t even let their children go anywhere near her. Kids her age usually mock her and make fun of her appearance. Even after all this, Kya fights back in her own way and makes herself into a fine woman.
“Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land who caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”
Since childhood Kya has been the nature’s baby. Kya falls in love with the surroundings and the creatures of the marsh. She starts observing the animals, the birds, and the insects in their natural world. The living in the marsh is all that kya has a family. The gulls that she feeds daily, become her friends. Amid the North Caroline marsh, we see Kya, growing up into a strong and graceful woman.
She also starts collecting and studying the feathers of different birds. Without even realizing what she is creating, she starts putting each specimen in order and sketching them with their minute details.
During her teen, Kya comes across two boys who are charmed by her beauty and character. Tate, one of her brother’s friend, comes along, giving her gifts and teaches her to read. He accepts her the way she is and starts falling in love with her. They first become friends, and soon, a different kind of feeling starts emerging between them. With his help, Kya learns mathematics and biology and is soon able to write names and catalog her collection. Everything seems happy until Tate leaves for college and leaves her too.
After Tate’s departure, Kya is left alone again. While wandering the marsh on her own, she comes across Chase Andrews, the star kid of the town. He brings her hope of a better future with friends and family in it. They are together for a while until Kya learns that he is engaged to another girl. Kya’s gets heartbroken, and she determines never to trust anyone.
Fast forward two years, Chase’s dead body is found near the tower in the marsh. A rumor starts spreading in the town that he has been murdered by the marsh girl. People start blaming her, and various eyewitnesses have different stories. There is a trial, and kya is held in prison for over two months until the court hearing.
We are taken away from the atmospheric beauty of the marsh and brought to the concrete walls of the courtroom. The author herself tells us about the stark difference between the marsh and the courtroom – “The language of the court was, of course, not as poetic as the language of the marsh.”
Kya is defended by a seventy-four-year-old lawyer who truly believes in her innocence. In prison, she befriends a cat and a guard who is genuinely kind to her. During the trial, the story travels back and forth between the courtroom and the incidents that happened that lead to Chase’s death.
The trial ends with the jury finding Kya not guilty. Kya returns to the marsh and starts staying with Tate in her shack. Without marriage and kids, Kya and Tate live a pleasant and happy life until one day when Kya departs the world.
At the stage what remains a mystery is who killed Chase Andrews all those years ago? Was he even murdered or did he infect die of an accident? We get the answer to this at the very end of Kya’s life. There are hints about what really happened during the flashbacks, which I’ll leave for the readers to find and explore on their own.
All throughout Kya’s life, she’s been a part of nature. She learned many of her life’s valuable lessons from the wild. Her observation of the mother animals and birds returning toothier offsprings gave her hope of her own mother’s return. When she was a teen, she fell in love with two boys and her observations of the mating of the fireflies taught her a lot about romantic relationships. She observes how a female mantis lures the male mantis who mates with different females and eats them at once.
I am in absolute love with the story. It is beautifully narrated, containing the detailed descriptions of the marsh. It is thoughtful and talks about some serious issues like loneliness and prejudice. It evokes emotions and touches your heart and swallows you into the life of Kya Clark. The prose used in the book to describe the marsh is so unique and breathtaking that you will not feel it’s a presence around you. The writing is so elegant and indulgent that you will not keep the book down.
The author beautifully takes us through the atmospheric tone of the story for us to explore on our own. She creates the aura of mystery since the beginning until the very end. She allows us to open our minds and imagine the beautiful scenery of the marsh, guided by the protagonist Kya. The character development is brilliant, especially of the protagonist. Kya’s character is one that speaks to the readers and cannot be forgotten. This book is for all who love a good romance, a murder mystery, beautiful descriptions of nature, and what it holds.
PS – Reese Witherspoon selected the book for her Hello Sunshine Book Club and is now also gonna be producing the film based on it. *Waiting for it*