Reviewed by Bev Scott
“You have to read this book!” I was urged by friends and colleagues multiple times. Where the Crawdads Sing is the debut novel by a wild-life scientist, Delia Owens. It is now a best seller.
As a young girl, Kyla’s mother abandons her. Eventually her brother and finally her father also abandon her. She thus lives alone in a cabin in the swamp. She hides from the truant officer and fears everyone. Gradually, she learns to survive alone and finds a friend in “colored town,” who does not pass judgment and instead provides both support and guidance.
Unwilling to go to school and be harassed and taunted by the school children as the “Marsh girl,” she does not know how to read until she meets Tate. A compassionate young man, he connects with her gently and sensitively. He offers to teach her to read.
With her own curiosity and intimate knowledge of the marshlands surrounding her cabin, she observes, reads and learns. She becomes an expert able to draw, understand and explain the ecology and the many biological creatures around her. She publishes books and becomes a recognized author outside her community.
But her personal life isolates her. Tate deeply hurts her as he surreptitiously watches the young people who have taunted her, but is afraid to join them. She ultimately gets involved with and is then betrayed by one of them, Chase.
Delia Owens has written her debut novel beautifully, with detailed description of her natural environment, the swamp. The author also lays Kyla’s inner life so bare that the rawness and crushing emotions of a child and young woman who was totally abandoned, are painfully felt by the reader. My friends and colleagues were correct. ”You have to read this book!” Where the Crawdads Sing is indeed a must-read.