Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens has sold an awesome 4.5 million copies, and in 2019 sold more copies than any other adult book- fiction or non-fiction. It also held the number 1 slot on the New York Times best seller’s list for 30 weeks.
Why I chose this book
I purchased and read Where the Crawdads Sing mainly because I wanted to find out what made the story the most popular book of 2019. The only reviews I have read are those segments on the hard copy cover of the book, and the NYTimes article I used for sales figures. (Read the article yourself here https://nyti.ms/365qZ34) Among reviews is the endorsement and promotion by Reese Witherspoon, which is sure to give a boost to any good book.
This engaging murder mystery tells the story of a child, Kya, whose dysfunctional family lives in the marsh of North Carolina. One by one they desert her, leaving her to fend for herself. She survives, self-educates, and falls in love.
Owens has a talent for character and moves easily between the various individual’s in her story. She creates a heroine who is haunting, destitute, and forsaken. Who couldn’t have sympathy for this child? Owens is not too shy to create stereo-typical characters such as the quarterback who is somewhat dumb, speaks with an uneducated accent, and is only out to satisfy his physical and emotional needs. Or Tate, the intelligent/sensitive, scholar/biologist who teaches Kya to read, and is the only one who understands her growth and needs. Or Kya’s father who has a back story of a ne’er do well who ends up living in the marsh because—he’s a ne’er do well.
Owens draws on her vast experience as a wildlife biologist to paint vivid pictures of setting. She includes detail about creatures and life in the marsh. I could not, however, anchor how far or how close Kya lived to town. She got mail and people came in vehicles, yet she was remote and alone.
Crawdads is a good story that taps into many current threads that populate society today, such as concern for our wetlands. Tapping into the public’s soft spots is a wise idea for an author and definitely helps perpetuate success.
Crawdads is about fear with a heavy theme of the Haves verses the Have Nots. The townies are the Haves. The Haves are the pastors and their wives, the business owners, the authorities, the schools, etc. To make matters worse, the Haves want to drain the marsh and make it useful. Haves are judgmental and fear the Have Nots. They are after Kya, want to force her to attend school, and they generally harass other Have Nots.
The Have Nots are marsh people and the folk who live in colored town, the folk who just want to live their simple lives in peace doing things their own way. They are the innocent victims. Even the habitats of the Have Nots are safe and harmonious, unless there is intrusion by the Haves. Colored town is peaceful unless townies come in to harass. The marsh holds no dangers, nothing that bites or stings or sinks. The only danger is when the Haves intrude.
The Have Nots are nice people. The Haves? Not so much, but they learn how wrong they are in the end.
Of course, Tate teaches Kya to read easily. She is brilliant and devours scientific tomes. Then she publishes art books books and poetry, and is offered a job, which she turns down. She is the brilliant potential of the Have Nots in the marsh, shunned by the Haves. And in the end Kya proves she was smarter than everyone.
Where the Crawdads Sing is an enjoyable story, if a somewhat slow read. The plot is entirely predictable. The author takes a lot of author liberties, such as switching from omniscient to 3rd person, changing POV mid scene, author intrusion. Omniscient was necessary because Kya, especially as a child, knew things there was no way she should know, so an overview was necessary to get the job done. Through the beginning of the story, I kept asking myself, “How does she know this?”
Owens writes what she knows and proves an author can develop worlds and characters any way she sees them, because we all view the world through our own lens. She shows us you can break lots of writing rules if your themes reflect popular mindsets or interest. But my biggest take away is that if an author has story, nothing else matters.
And also, you can grow up strong, gorgeous, and desirable on grits and a little seafood.