Likely Stories: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Aug 1, 2019

Fantastic and thrilling story of a young child abandoned by her family in a hidden marsh.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

In 1984, I purchased a book with an intriguing soft cover with, lots of pictures, and outstanding prose.  I read Cry of the Kalahari in one sitting.  I was so struck, I immediately read it again.  When I noticed Delia Owens’s name on Where the Crawdads Sing, I instinctively knew it would be a masterpiece of fiction.  My thoughts proved to be correct. 

According to the dust jacket, Delia Owens is the author of several books of African species in Botswana.  Her first book was co-authored with her then husband, who sold all their possessions and moved to Botswana.  They faced agonizing red tape before they were able to enter the country.  Where the Crawdad Sings is her first novel.  I hope it will not be her last.

Kya Clark is an innocent child of about six when her mother leaves her husband to escape horrific abuse.  Her three siblings have also drifted away, leaving Kya alone with an alcoholic abuser.  At first, she is wary of her father, but he makes an effort to take care of Kya.  Then, a letter arrives with her mother’s distinctive script.  Her father flies into a rage, and disappears. 

Kya is now completely alone.  Truant officers cannot find her in the marsh Kya dearly loves.  One day, while taking out her father’s boat, she sees a young boy.  Tate waves, and they eventually become friends.  He teaches her how to read and write.  Delia explains, “On every trip to Kya’s, Tate took school or library books, especially on marsh creatures and biology.  Her progress was startling.  She could read anything now, he said, and once you can read anything, you can learn everything.  It was up to her.  ‘Nobody comes close to filling their brains,’ he said.  ‘We’re all like giraffes not using their necks to reach the higher leaves’.”  Kya read how plants and animals change over time to adjust to the ever-shifting earth; how some cells divide and specialize into lungs or hearts, while others remain uncommitted as stem cells in case they’re needed later.  […]  All her life, she’d seen these marvels at eye level, so nature’s ways came easily to her” (131).

As the young people mature, Tate, now 18, is about to leave for college.  He promises to write or come and see her as soon as he can.  Unfortunately, Tate is in an intensive program for a degree, and Kya fears he has forgotten her.  She develops a mistrust of Tate and men in general.  Unfortunately, his short visits home never seem to mesh with each other.  A jock with a promising football career, Chase Andrews takes an interest in conquering “the Marsh Girl.”

Delia Owens first novel, Where the Crawdad Sings, is an exciting addition to the world of literary fiction.  This comes as no surprise after reading her earlier works.  Stop what you are doing, order up copies of her books, and enter the amazing world of a talented author and biologist.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!