Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens, 2018

What a fantastic book! Once the murder trial started, I could not put it down. I tried to go to sleep at 10:00 p.m. but got up at 10:45 p.m. and finished this book by 1:45 a.m.! It was so good! So well-written and what a plot and characters! The main character is Kya Clark, the Marsh Girl, abandoned first by her mother at age 6, then by her older brother, Jodie, and finally by her abusive, drunk father at the age of 10. She lives by herself in a shack in the marshes of North Carolina, near a small town called Barkley Cove, but a world away all by herself. One person, Tate Walker, saves her when she is lost, befriends her, teaches her to read, encourages her to learn about the flora and fauna of the marsh, but breaks her heart when he goes off to college and doesn’t return on July 4th as he promised. Her only other friends in the world are Jumpin’ and Mabel. Jumpin’ is the bait shop owner who saves her from starving by buying her mussels and smoked fish in return for gas for her boat, food, and supplies. His wife, Mabel, gives her clothing and love and comfort as she grows from child to woman.

When she is pursued by the town’s star quarterback, Chase Andrews, and believes his lies, her heart is broken again. He promised to marry her. She finds out he is engaged to a town girl. She hides from him. Chase finds her one day in the forest drawing mushrooms. He tries to rape her, she fights him off but he hits her hard, like she remembers her father doing to her mother. She lives in fear of him and hides out constantly. Delia Owens writes so well about the loneliness and pain of this beautiful girl and how she copes by studying and learning about her marsh. The book opens with two little boys finding the body of Chase Andrews, broken and battered, at the bottom of the fire tower. The town quickly suspects Kya and she is eventually arrested and jailed. She is kept in jail for 2 months during which she barely eats, and refuses to talk with anyone except her lawyer, and him barely. Tate has returned to her life, begged her forgiveness, encouraged her to publish her drawings, which she did, and sticks by her even though she has refused to forgive him and avoids him. She is found not guilty – a miracle. The trial is so absorbing, I could not put it down. The ending is amazing. She and Tate live happily ever after in her shack in the marsh. Tate is a research scientist and Kya is, too, but she does her research on her own, in a lab Tate built for her behind the shack. Kya dies in her boat at the age of 64. Tate searches for a will in the shack but instead finds a trap door under the wood stove and discovers hundreds of poems written by Amanda Hamilton, in Kya’s handwriting. Kya would recite some of these poems during her loneliest times. One of the poems describes a man falling, falling to his death. And in a box is the shell necklace she gave Chase Andrews and which he wore constantly, but was not on him when they found his body. Tate burns everything, all the poems, the rawhide string that held the shell, and drops the shell into the sea.

Here are the last few paragraphs of the book:

Still kneeling on the floor, he read it again. He held the paper next to his heart, throbbing inside his chest. He looked out the window, making certain no one was coming down the lane–not that they would, why would they? but to be sure. Then he opened the small box, knowing what he would find. There, laid out carefully on cotton, was the shell necklace Chase had worn until the night he died.

Tate sat at the kitchen table for a long while, taking it in, imagining her riding on night buses, catching a riptide, planning around the moon. Softly calling to Chase in the darkness. Pushing him backward, Then, squatting in mud at the bottom, lifting his head, heavy with death, to retrieve the necklace. Covering her footprints; leaving no trace.

Breaking kindling into bits, Tate built a fire in the old woodstove and, envelope by envelope, burned the poems. Maybe he didn’t need to burn them all, maybe he should have destroyed just the one, but he wasn’t thinking clearly. The old, yellowed papers made a great whoosh a foot high, then smoldered. He took the shell off the rawhide, dropped the rawhide in the fire, and but the boards back in the floor.

Then, in near dusk, he walked to the beach and stood on a sharp bed of white and cracked mollusks and crab pieces. For a second he stared at Chase’s shell in his open palm and then dropped it on the sand. Looking the same as all the others, it vanished. The tide was coming in, and a wave flowed over his feet, taking with it hundreds of seashells back into the sea. Kya had been of this land and of this water; now they would take her back. Keep her secrets deep.

And then the gulls came. Seeing him there, they spiraled above his head. Calling. Calling.

As night fell, Tate walked back toward the shack. But when he reached the lagoon, he stopped under the deep canopy and watched hundreds of fireflies beckoning far into the dark reaches of the marsh. Way out yonder, where the crawdads sing.

the last paragraphs of this fantastic book, Where the Crawdads Sing

Here’s her lawyer’s closing arguments:

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I grew up in Barkley Cove, and when I was a younger man I heard the tall tales about the Marsh Girl. Yes, let’s just get this out in the open. We called her the Marsh Girl. Many still call her that. Some people whispered that she was part wolf or the missing link between ape and man. That her eyes glowed in the dark. Yet in reality, she was only an abandoned child, a little girl surviving on her own in a swamp, hungry and cold, but we didn’t help her. Except for one of her only friends, Jumpin’, not one of our churches or community groups offered her food or clothes. Instead we labeled and rejected her because we thought she was different. But, ladies and gentlemen, did we exclude Miss Clark because she was different, or was she different because we excluded her? If we had taken her in as one of our own–I think that is what she would be today. If we had fed, clothed, and loved her, invited her into our churches and homes, we wouldn’t be prejudiced against her. And I believe she would not be sitting her today accused of a crime.

“The job of judging this shy, rejected young woman has fallen on your shoulders, but you must base that judgment on the facts presented in this case, in this courtroom, not on rumors or feelings from the past twenty-four years.

“What are the true and sold facts?” Just as with the prosecution, Kya’s mind caught only snippets. “. . . the prosecution has not even proved that this incident was indeed a murder and not simply a tragic accident. No murder weapon, no wounds from being pushed, no witnesses, no fingerprints . . .

“One of the most important proven facts is that Miss Clark has a sound alibi. We know she was in Greenville the night Chase died . . . no evidence that she dressed as a man, bused to Barkley . . . In fact, the prosecution has failed to prove that she was in Barkley Cove that night at all, failed to prove that she went to the tower. I say again: there is not one single piece of evidence that proves Miss Clark was on the fire tower, in Barkley Cove, or killed Chase Andrews.

“. . . and the skipper, Mr. O’Neal, who has operated his own shrimp boat for thirty-eight years, testified that it was too dark to identify that boat.

“. . . fibers on this jacket, which could have been there for four years . . . These are uncontested facts . . .

“Not one of the witnesses for the prosecution was sure of what they saw, not one. Yet in her defense, every witness is one hundred percent certain . . .”

Tom stood for a moment in front of the jury. “I know most of you very well, and I know you can set aside any former prejudices against Miss Clark. Even though she only went to school one day in her life–because the other children harassed her–she educated herself and became a well-known naturalist and author. We called her the Marsh Girl; now scientific institutions recognize her as the Marsh Expert.

“I believe you can put all of the rumors and tall tales aside. I believe you will come to a judgment based on the fact you heard in this courtoom, not the false rumors you have hear for hyears.

“It is time, at last, for us to be fair to the Marsh Girl.”

page 340 and 341 of Where the Crawdads Sing, which is Kya’s lawyer’s closing arguments at her murder trial

One of the very best books I have ever read!