What an opportunity – same author, two books – a fiction and a nonfiction book. Read both but read Where the Crawdads Sing first.
Where the Crawdads Sing
How could a child survive alone in a North Carolina coastal marsh? Why did the local townsfolk ostracize the child instead of helping her? What survival lessons are to be learned from the natural world of plants, insects, and animals in the wild? Who killed Chase Andrews? What is a crawdad, anyway?
These are only a few possible questions to discuss after reading Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdad Sings, an amazing coming of age story intertwined with science and observation of nature – with a compelling unsolved murder mystery thrown in to keep the pages turning. A respected scientist and winner of the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing, Owens successfully inserts scientific observation within this compelling fictional tale of a young girl who effectively raises herself after she is abandoned in a ramshackle shack in the Southern marshland.
Five year old Kya’s mother walks away one day and never comes back. One by one her four older brothers and sisters leave too; only her abusive alcoholic father is left, and eventually he is gone. Although she tries attending school for one day, the taunting she receives is unbearable to this sensitive and shy child; she never goes back, and lives in solitude for most of her young life. Her social interactions are limited to the seagulls and the fish.
A born naturalist and observer, Kya becomes an expert in the natural life of the marsh, taking samples and creating precise drawings to document her findings. Owens cleverly connects Kya’s observations to lessons and secrets she adapts for survival.
“Kya honed her skills of harvesting mussels by watching the crows; she learned about dishonest signals from the fireflies; she learned about loyalty and friends from the seagulls.”
As she grows into a wild beauty, she attracts two young men from the town – Tate, who shares her love of nature and teaches her to read, and the former high school football captain resting on his laurels, who lies to her with promises of marriage to get her to sleep with him.
The story alternates years from Kya’s young life as the “Marsh Girl” and her present day (1969) trial for murder. The storyline is easy to follow, and the ending is satisfying, but the story offers so much more. Owens is painlessly educating the reader while teasing out a possible murder mystery.
I really wanted a book in my hands, so I bought the hard cover, but I did check the audible version first (sadly I had no credits available) and the sample had endearing Southern accents in the dialogue. Either way – a good book with an unlikely combination of being both informative and suspenseful.
Cry of the Kalahari
Owens has co-authored three non fiction nature books with her husband, Mark Owens: Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savannah, all based on their research in Africa. Where The Crawdads Sing is her first foray into fiction. I found Cry of the Kalahari in my library system, and am now reading through this nonfiction account of two American zoology graduate students who embarked on their own research study in the Kalahari Desert in the 1970’s.
“After selling virtually everything they owned to fund their daring trip, they flew to Africa with only $6000 in their pocket, determined to live in the wild and study animals that had never encountered humans before. This is the tale of their seven years spent in the desolate wilderness of Botswana, with only the animals for company… camping out in the Kalahari Desert with lions, jackals and hyenas regularly wandering into their camp.”
The book has a conversational style – almost like reading their diary – but also includes scientific observations and over thirty amazing close-up pictures of them with lions sleeping nearby, jackals investigating their tents, and other wild animals looking at home in their camp.