Publication Day Review – ‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Thank you to NetGalley, Little Brown Book Group UK and Delia Owens for the chance to read and review this book.

#1 New York Times Best Seller

A Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick.

For years, rumours of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast.  So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.  But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand.  Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself up to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.  

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingslover and Celeste Ng , Where The Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of murder.  Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Breathtaking, mesmerising, haunting, beautiful, heartbreaking and unforgettable: just a few words that first come to mind when I think of this sensational book.

The story begins in 1969 when two young boys discover the body of local football hero Chase Andrews lying in the Marsh.  There is immediate suspicion that the death is not accidental and talk of who could have wanted to kill him. We then go back to 1952 where six-year-old Kya is sat on the front porch watching in disbelief as her “Ma” walks away in her best shoes carrying a suitcase.  The book then continues in dual timelines: we follow the hunt to find who killed Chase as the police try to ascertain what is rumour and gossip and what is fact, and also watch as Kya grows up on the Marsh and learns to not only survive, but flourish.

Reading about how Kya lives was difficult and heartbreaking.  She is seen as “Marsh Trash” by those who live in Barkley Cove, and avoided and vilified by adults and children alike.  After her Ma leaves, her siblings soon follow and she is left alone with her Pa, a violent drunk who is often absent. When he eventually abandons her too she has to find a way to make an income and finds a friend in Jumpin,who owns Gas and Bait which sells gas and groceries, and his wife Mabel.  Her one day at school was a disaster so she gets her education from the world around her and studies the Marsh, sea and sand. For many years she’s unable to read but then Tate, who was a friend of her older brother, offers to teach her. They inevitably fall in love and he awakens a side to Kya she didn’t have before, one where she needs someone and enjoys another person’s company.  When he leaves her heartbroken she feels unable to trust anyone and completely withdraws into herself and her Marsh again, determined never to rely on anyone but herself from now on.

Very quickly after Chase is found, suspicion from the townspeople falls on the Marsh Girl, who was rumoured to have had some kind of relationship with him at one point.  Her elusive behaviour each time the police try to talk to her doesn’t help convince people of her innocence. It seems even in the absence of evidence most people have decided they know what happened and convicted her of the crime in their jury of small-town opinion.

By the time I was half way through the book I was consumed and couldn’t stop reading. It was a completely different book to what I expected it to be, although I don’t really know what I expected. I knew I had a book I loved on my hands and that the trepidation that comes with reading a much talked about, hyped book was unnecessary.

The author has a remarkable ability to make you feel and understand from Kya’s perspective in this book.  You feel her crippling loneliness at a life lived truly alone, her overwhelming fear of anything or anyone outside the Marsh, admiration that she surviving such a life and all she accomplished despite the odds, and anger at the way she was treated, judged, used and failed by almost everyone she meets.

Delia Owens is a phenomenal writer, and Where The Crawdads Sing is a spectacular debut.. It is a long book and I admit there were times that reading it felt like a slog, but that was because of the southern dialect and heavy subject matter and not because of boredom.  I loved this story and it didn’t take long for me to find it hard to put down. It is an eloquently written, powerful, emotive, and extraordinary novel. It is a masterpiece that you won’t be able to forget and will stay with you long after you read it.

Out today.

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