There comes a time when you must sneak another book ahead into the To-Be-Read stack as a priority. I faced one of those times after many of my book-loving friends asked, “Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing?” Comments included the words “different” and “unexpected.”
With weeks on the best-seller list and many word-of-mouth recommendations, I’m sure you’ve heard of the book and perhaps have seen the author, Delia Owen, interviewed. Some of my favorite interview tidbits include the fact that this debut novel, though she had other writings, took ten years to write and was published when she was seventy. She described sleeping with a writing pad, pen, and flashlight to write down ideas that come in the middle of the night though she often couldn’t read her writing the next morning. I related to this story although my writing materials are on the nightstand by my bed, and I rouse myself enough to be sure I can read it the next morning. I don’t want to lose these ideas that are often my best.
The prologue of this book by Delia Owen begins with two boys spotting the body of Chase Andrews in the swamp below an old fire tower on October 30, 1969. The first chapter opens in 1952 with Catherine Danielle Clark, known as Kya, watching her mother leave in her fake alligator heels carrying her blue train case. The book alternates between the murder case at the latter date and Kya’s story beginning with her mother leaving and following as two older sisters and the oldest brother drift away leaving her and Jodie, the closest brother, with their drunken abusive father who carries demons from his service in World War II. Leaving Kya becomes a theme. Jodie, the father, and two boys in her coming-of-age also leave her bit by bit to fend for herself in the swamp shack that is home.
Shunned by the community and labelled the “Marsh Girl,” Kya attends school for one day, and is shamed into never returning. She spends the days until she ages out of the school system hiding from the truant officer sent for her. Befriended only by the owner of the gas station and his wife, who own the station with its store in colored town, and intermittently by Tate who teaches her to read and provides her with books, Kya becomes an expert on the flora and fauna of the swamp. With her swamp connections, she also becomes a suspect in the murder case.
Any more description would require a spoiler alert, so just in case you haven’t read this book yet, I will just add “surprising” to the descriptions by my reader friends and say this is a book you do not want to miss.