Trying to Make it in a Wild Place: Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing, the bestselling novel by Delia Owens, was one of the most borrowed books at TOJ Library in 2019, but there must be many who missed it. Or for whom it is still on a TBR list.

The novel is set in North Carolina marsh country in the 1950s and 60s; it is structured as two related narratives which the reader expects are moving toward each other. The main story, which begins in 1952, is thoroughly engrossing as it follows a young girl, Kya, as she grows up mostly on her own in the marsh; the second, set in 1969, follows a criminal investigation. Kya’s coming-of-age story is completely absorbing, and so is the book’s deep evocation of place, its flora and fauna:  

“Ducking beneath the low-hanging limbs of giant trees, she churned slowly through thicket for more than a hundred yards, as easy turtles slid from water-logs. A floating mat of duckweed colored the water as green as the leafy ceiling, creating an emerald tunnel. Finally, the trees parted, and she glided into a place of wide sky and reaching grasses, and the sounds of cawing birds. The view a chick gets, she reckoned, when it finally breaks its shell.”

It is perhaps not surprising to learn that Owens is a zoologist, but it may be surprising to learn that she spent most of her adult life in Botswana and Zambia, rather than in North Carolina. She has written about her experiences studying wildlife in Africa in nonfiction works, including Cry of the Kalahari (1984). Crawdads is her first work of fiction. She has said of her novel, “It’s about trying to make it in a wild place.”