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Book review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing is a book that has been all over social media, so I was intrigued to have a read and see what everyone was talking about.

The story starts out with a mystery when a  town’s favourite son, Chase Andrews, falls to his death. His family and the townspeople turn their attention to an enigmatic girl who lives by the swamp.

The girl, Kya, was abandoned by her family in the hut where they lived when she was younger, and an outcast in the nearby town, is known as the Swamp Girl – a name that highlights the way the townspeople view her. She is clearly not one of them.

Despite her loneliness, before the accident she had built a life for herself, appreciating the company of the birds who were her surrogate family, and the natural world that accommodates her in a way that the townspeople never have.

Kya experiences first love with a boy who shares her passion for the landscape, but is once again disappointed when he abandons her in the way her family did years earlier. For some time, I thought this book was going to a love story. And in some ways, it was, capturing the joy and surrender of first love. However, the story is far more complex, and the heartbreak Kya experiences is expertly portrayed by author Delia Owens.

Owens writes of the pain of loss and betrayal, but with the additional weight of a life that has been barren of human love and affection. It is both beautiful and heartbreaking to read of Kya’s disappointment and loss when her first love is not what it seems.

Later, as she retreats back into her solitary life, Kya becomes embroiled in the mystery of how Chase fell to his death The townspeople’s prejudices that have shaped Kya’s life are exposed as they point their fingers at the Swamp Girl.

I really enjoyed the story of Kya’s survival and how she was nurtured by her environment after her family betrayed her. The descriptions of the swamp setting were beautiful, and provided relief from the instability and emotional turmoil Kya faced. The book also offers an eye-opening perspective on the lives of those who are on the fringes of society, whether in the US or closer to home.

However, my enjoyment of the book was not as great as it might have been if I had not previously read The Choke – another book about a neglected girl, and one of the best books I’ve read in recent years. This book was far less lyrical than Sofie Laguna’s award-winning book, and some elements made me have to work a little too hard to suspend disbelief, including the explanation of the circumstances surrounding Chase’s death.

However, where The Choke was confronting, Where the Crawdads Sing was an easy read that was not nearly as harrowing and raw. Even though it tugged the emotions, the central mystery meant the book was more entertaining than chilling; it could be more accurately described as a page turner than a heart breaker. It’s no surprise that Where the Crawdads Sing has attracted so many readers, as it is a worthwhile, evocative and well-told story, and I found the ending to be  satisfying and strangely uplifting.

Where the Crawdads Sing is available at Booktopia (Australia) and The Book Depository (US and UK).

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