Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa—Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savanna. She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and International Wildlife, among many others. She currently lives in Idaho, where she continues her support for the people and wildlife of Zambia. Though Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel, Owens is a veteran and has been writing for forty years. [Penguin Random House]
Kya is known in her town as the “Marsh Girl.” She grows up in a shack out in the marshes bordering a small village on the coast of North Carolina. Her mother and her four older siblings all leave to get away from their abusive father, leaving her behind to fend for herself. Eventually, her father disappears as well.
Where the Crawdads Sing is part coming of age albeit in bizarre conditions and part crime drama, centered around Kya, a wild and unkempt girl. The book follows the ups and downs of her life. She lives a lonely life, but her story is a hopeful one as well. With a little help, she’s able to survive and even learn to read.
Despite her status as an outcast, her natural beauty catches the eye of two men in town. However, when the body of Chase Andrews, the local hotshot, is discovered in the marshes, she quickly becomes a prime suspect. The fragile life she has struggled and fought so hard to build is at risk.
As she heads into her teenage years, the romantic storylines start kicking in, and the melodrama starts ramping up as well. The book is increasingly divorced from reality (the idea that a teenage boy would teach her not only to read but about her period seemed far-fetched, and it goes on from there) and plot events get a bit contrived.
Additionally, Kya’s internal journey, her mentally processing the events of her life, felt a little surface level. She struggles with being abandoned by her mother, and the book brings in interesting parallels to nature, but beyond that, events simply happen without much reflection. It felt like there were a number of missed plot opportunities.
This criticism notwithstanding the book has had nearly 15,000 Amazon reviews with an average of 4.8 out of 5. A lot of people loved the book.
(Excerpted from The Bibliofile Book Review by Jennifer Marie Lin)
1. How does the North Carolina marsh setting shape the story? In what ways does the setting seem like another character in the novel?
2. Discuss the series of events that led to Kya living alone in the marsh. Who failed her, and who was there for her? Were there better choices that could have been made?
3. How do Kya’s observations of nature influence her understanding of the world? Give examples of how Kya’s decisions were influenced by things she saw in nature.
4. How did you feel about Kya’s decision not to return to school? How different would her life have been if she had stayed in school?
5. Did the people of Barkley Cove owe anything to Kya? What does it mean for her to be an outsider, and how does it impact her life and choices?
6. How is poetry used in the book? What does poetry mean to Tate and to Kya?
7. Contrast Kya’s relationships with Chase and Tate. What do each of them offer her, and what does she represent to them?
8. What does Kya learn by watching the girls in Barkley Cove? How is her idea of womanhood influenced by her observations and by her life in the marsh?
9. Do you see Kya as a victim? How did your opinion of her change over the course of the book?
10. How did you feel about the outcome of the murder trial and about the ending of the book?
11. Are there implausible events in this book? Can you name some? Do the following qualify: learning to read with no training except from a young boy, learning about her period from the same boy, Kaya being a published poet, a self educated marsh girl writing and illustrating acclaimed scientific works, etc. ?
This wildly popular book became the darling of book clubs and was
reviewed by more than 17 thousand readers reported on Amazon
books. The ratings were just under 4 out of 5 representing high
The discussion began with an attempt to compare Kya’s upbringing
with the protagonists in “Educated” and “Hillbilly Elegy” but most agreed
that Kaya’s case was unique in that the abuse she suffered was more
abandonment than physical except for a brief time with her father.
The group agreed that the first part of the book was better. Later in the
book most thought the author was in a hurry to finish. Complex issues
like the bus rides that provided Kaya an alibi were not what would be
expected of a person who had lived a life away from modern activity.
Details of Chase’s death were necessarily sketchy because of the need
to make this a real mystery. And Kaya’s becoming a celebrated science
writer and wildlife artist had very little build up. Likewise her being a
published poet using a pseudonym was dropped on the reader.
Some appreciated the imagery throughout the description of life in the
marsh; others thought it overdone. Overall the writing was considered
good. One person was bothered by the back and forth in timing but
most thought it was necessary.
All were held in suspense about the murderer and the fact that Kaya
“did it” came as a surprise. Her luring chase to the tower was
foreshadowed by a description of the firefly who enticed the male for
the purposes of procreation and then bit his head off.
Chase constantly wearing the pendant that eventually was the key to
the mystery was thought to be out of character for this fellow.
There was universal agreement that Jumper was the most appealing
character with Tom the lawyer a close second.
Most thought the book was replete with implausibility, but most were
willing to overlook this saying the book is fiction and the read was fun.
Like it or not everyone read the book. The rating was 6.4 out of 10 with
a range of 3 to 9.