This book all started with a phone call from my Aunt in California a few weeks ago. She told me she had a fantastic book for me to read. That it was one my Grandmother was reading for a book club and that in a moment of quiet she also picked it up and began to read, and then promptly finished it in four days. Now, few to none of you know my Aunt, but I assure you, she has very little time on her hands. For her to read a book in a month, let alone four days is nothing short of a miracle. I had her text me what the title of the book was, ran to not one but two stores to find it (I am in instant gratification kinda book girl. I don’t want to order it. I want it now!) and began to read. A few hectic days later, I was also finished having stayed up entirely too late to effectively function at work, just to get it finished.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is the story of Catherine Danielle Clark, aka Kia aka the Marsh Girl and the murder of the town heartthrob, Chase Andrews. The story is set over two time periods, with one time leading up to the other in a climax I saw coming, didn’t want to and still cheered for.
Where the Crawdads Sing is a story of adversity, and persistence of the human spirit against extreme odds. Kia is abandoned at the tender age of six by everyone who should care for her as the sensitive and precious treasure she is. Her mother walks out on Kia and her siblings, leaving them to the care of their father, a man negligent at best and completely incapable of raising them. Almost immediately, her siblings also leave and Kia is left alone with a man dealing with his own inner demons, insecurities and trauma. For a short time they fall into a dysfunctional routine. Kia keeps house as he comes and goes leaving her alone and practically helpless for days and weeks at a time. There are a few tender moments between them and if everything financial were taken out of the picture and he had a good support network, things might have been okay. Owens shows that he isn’t a complete monster, that parents own trauma has a lot to do with how we as parents cope while raising our own children. He is a man incapable of emotionally and physically incapable of taking care of his responsibilities. After a short time, he also abandons her. Kia is left alone, at six years old to fend for herself as best she can.
One would think the State would step in and place her in a foster home or at least confirm with a parent that things were okay. The system which should protect her and ensure a safe environment for her, fails her miserably. Sure, Kia is made to attend school by the social worker. On her first and only day at school she is ostracised by her peers. Made fun of, called names such as “swamp rat” and “marsh hen” and “marsh rat,” she is also sneered at and picked on for lacking a formal education which is not her fault. The administration is completely unhelpful, and during additional visits to her home from the social worker, Kia hides, evading “capture” for so long that eventually no one comes around any more. It is a lonely and solitary existence. Were it not for her own inner voice of kindness and compassion along with a small group of friends intent on keeping her safe while respecting her privacy, Kia may have grown up to be a monster of a person, intent on hurting others because she herself had been hurt and abandoned.
Kia learns to fend for herself in the marsh. Hunting small game, and gathering anything she can find to eat, farming a small plot of land next to her home. She buys grits and other supplies from Jumpin’ to whom she sells the muscles she catches and fish she dries. He and his wife, Mabel are two of the people she can count on to respect her privacy and help her as best they can with their own limited means and social standing in the community.
So Kia grows up, alone and isolated in the marsh. One day, she finds a feather, a gift from an unknown person. She returns another feather in exchange and a friendship grows between Kia and Tate, the son of a local fisherman who also loves the marsh. Tate becomes her best friend, teaching her how to read and appreciating her knowledge of the marsh, it’s fauna, foliage, subtleties of changes and how she sees the world. Eventually, they fall in love. Tate promises to come back for her during his college breaks and doesn’t. This breaks Kia’s heart and she is once again, alone and lonely, abandoned in the marsh she loves, craving human interaction and companionship. Over and over she is abandoned by people who should care for her. Is it any wonder she distrusts people and prefers her own company or the company of the marsh to that of people? Kia becomes an expert on the marsh. A woman capable of supporting herself, unique, intelligent, beautiful and a complete enigma to the town closest to her.
Enter Chase Andrews, town heartthrob, womanizer and jerk extraordinaire. He sees Kia as a wild, innocent and sensual woman he has to possess. They begin a relationship which goes too far. Eventually, she discovers his true nature, manipulative, possessive and abusive and the relationship ends. Kia is once again, alone in the marsh.
The other half of the story is comprised of the investigation of Chase Andrews by Sheriff Jackson. Mostly, all of the crimes committed in the swamp, including murder, stayed in the swamp. This time, with the murder of a prominent and popular member of the town, things are different. The investigation and subsequent courtroom drama have moments which are slow and typical. The investigation on its own is glossed over with more emphasis placed on the emotional than scientific. Some of the courtroom scenes drag on. This was not a part of the book I found to be enticing. However, it is a necessary part of the plot and even in its stifling moments, moves the dramatic aspect of the book along and helps form several crazy, suspenseful moments.
In the end, I felt more empathy, compassion and more than anything rooted for Kya to win. I wanted her to win a life for herself that comprised her beloved marsh. I wanted her to find love that was unconditional and wouldn’t abandon her. I wanted her to be accepted by her community, even if she chose not to become a member of that community, but to remain on the outskirts of it.
I am still mad at the community that did little to nothing to help her and ostracized not only her, but other people like her who make their way differently than is conventional. Yes, some of the people helped Kia in small ways, but they could have done so much more to help her. It brings to mind all of the other kids I know of who are in danger of falling through the cracks. How many other kids out there are like Kia? Would Kia have grown into the intelligent, marsh loving, environmentalist she became if she had been raised in a loving and nurturing home, or even worse, placed into a home away from everything she loved and held dear? How many children grow into being the people they become because of the adversity they faced as children? How many would be better off without such adversity? While I don’t have a good answer for any of these questions, I do know we all have our moments where we could, and should reach out and make a difference in someone’s life.