Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: G.P. Putnam's Sons Publishing, August 2018
My Rating: 4/5 stars
“ Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.“
One of my first introductions into reading American literature in its original language was Snow Falling on Cedars by David Gutterson. Clearly, it was a successful intro, as I adored it, and it opened a gateway for me into reading in English pretty much exclusively now. Although there are many differences, Where The Crawdads Sing brought me back to that first reading experience with David Gutterson: a story centered around a court trial in an isolated small town, that leads all involved to revisit memories from years ago. Themes of prejudice, forbidden love and coming of age under unusual circumstances, all pressed together under a dense atmosphere and lush nature writing.
Kya has been alone all her life. After her mother walks out without warning one day, leaving her alone with her abusive and mostly absent father, Kya is left to fend for herself in their small home on the outskirts of town. She retreats down into the local swamps and finds her new home there, where she grows up with Mother Earth as her only parent. Shunned all her life by the town people as the pariah “Swamp Girl”, it is to be expected that she is the first to be blamed when a local young man she has known since childhood is found dead near her swamps.
Apart from revisiting that Snow Falling on Cedars-vibe, there was a lot for me to love in this novel, above all else the voice in which it was narrated. Delia Owens’ background as a biologist shows in the vividness of her nature writing. Her words bring the pressingly humid marsh setting with all its flora and critters to life to the point where I could almost hear the buzz of insects and smell that heavy, earthy smell of murky water and slightly rotten leaves. I can already say that it’ll most likely be this setting that sticks with me for a long time, possibly even longer than the story itself.
The marsh’s almost a character in its own right: acting almost as a parent to Kya in a way. It takes a lost child into its warm, humid embrace, feeds her and protects her. It sings her stories and lullabies in the voices of cicada’s and crawdads, and teaches her the skills and values she’ll carries into adulthood.
Nature writing can be a hit or miss for me, but in this case Owens strikes a nice balance of paralleling scenes from the marsh’s wildlife to Kya’s coming of age, without overdoing it, and I loved it.
I was a little skeptical when the murder-mystery and trial became more at the center of the story, but ended up enjoying that part the most. It was so interesting to me, seeing the way the town-folk view and react to Kya, and how their prejudices affect their opinions on the trial.
Unfortunately, I do have one little gripe, which was the “sag” this book experienced at about 1/3 of the way through. Around page 100-150, very little happens and things become a little repetitive. I could tell that the author was trying to develop her characters more in this part, but as amazing the author is at nature writing, I could tell a little that this was her debut when it comes to character development. I know I’m not the only person who experienced this lag here, as the few 1-star or DNF-reviews I’ve seen all seem to quit around this point.
That being said: not a full 5-star read for me, but definitely a 4 or maybe even 4.5. If you enjoy nature writing combined with a coming of age story, want to read about the resilience of a young girl out on her own or just want to be completely transported to the Carolinian wetlands: this one is for you!
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