The narrative draws on the author’s naturalist background to vividly and critically depict a Southern society that’s still within living memory ... Unfortunately, Owens employs a very specific — and indeed all-too-familiar — twist to this tale of the intertwining of poverty and nature. The poor’s relationship to the land is not about their use of it or their efforts to achieve independence through nature. Instead, Owens presents a protagonist whose value lies through her symbiosis within nature; she doesn’t impact her surroundings, but finds all she needs to thrive. Once again, rural poverty is idealized; we don’t see the ‘country’ poor struggle to survive, economically, in the same way as the urban poor ... Kya is a figure who will please those who see nature as something that must be preserved, rather than cultivated by people who depend on it for their existence ... What Crawdads lacks is acknowledgment of how the ‘primitive’, ‘backwards’ South is pressing itself against (or being squeezed out by) the ‘progressive’, ‘elitist’ South. The narrative welcomes rural gentrification while serving up an air-brushed reproduction of small-town Southern pasts.
In 1952, 10-year-old Kya Clark is growing up in the coastal marshes of North Carolina, alone and abandoned. Her Ma walked out of her life. Her brothers and sisters drifted away to their own lives. Finally, her drunken Pa leaves. In 1969, the body of Chase Andrews, the town’s golden boy, is discovered in the marsh. Was it an accident or murder? ... The story alternates between Kya’s life growing up in the marsh and the death investigation until the two storylines merge in 1969 and a murder trial in 1970 ... Owens adeptly alternates plotlines, which creates the anticipation of what is to come. Both Kya and the marsh are the main characters of this immersive and moving story of love and belonging mixed with mystery and suspense.
...Kya is abandoned by her troubled mother when she is only six ... As Kya matures and teaches herself to be a naturalist, she is torn between two slightly older boys: kind, observant Tate and rascally, attractive Chase. Chase dies falling from a fire tower in his twenties, and the investigation of his possible murder, which alternates with the story of Kya’s coming-of-age, provides much of the novel’s suspense. Because the characters are painted in broad, unambiguous strokes, this is not so much a naturalistic novel as a mythic one, with its appeal rising from Kya’s deep connection to the place where she makes her home, and to all of its creatures.
The wildlife scientist Delia Owens has found her voice in her...first novel that is at once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature. The author, with her husband, Mark, of three books about southern Africa, Owens here surveys the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast through the eyes of an abandoned child. And in her isolation that child makes us open our own eyes to the secret wonders — and dangers — of her private world ... In the end, Owens goes a bit too far as she attempts to make amends for Kya’s lonely childhood and solitary life. But it must be said that Kya has earned it.
... outstanding ... Readers should set aside daily tasks, turn off cell phones, forget about laundry and possibly even eating once they start this story ... Owens’ writing is tight, yet sumptuous. It is abundant with descriptive prose and brings the reader straight to the edges of the briny marsh waters, and directly into the mind of the Marsh Girl. Reading this story is at once a study in the ecological environment as much as it is an exquisite virtual experience to a unique place in our natural world. The conclusion is haunting and unexpected, yet leaves a sense of fulfillment as all well-told stories do.
... one of the most curious books of 2019 ... At first glimpse, Crawdads might seem like a gentle book. Readers are likely to warm to the exacting, filmic descriptions ... But if this is a gentle book, it is only as gentle as an animal, as gentle as the weather, as gentle as the tide: which is to say that beneath everything, there is a wild and dangerous energy ... Part of [the book's] draw is how readily it engages with contemporary themes – not just motherhood, but femaleness, loneliness, personhood, society. What does it mean to be raised and taught, to comply with rules and/or be victimised by rules, to live among others, and/or be excluded by others? You could call Crawdads a raging feminist manifesto, a seething commentary on small town tribalism/racism, a cry for ecological action ... I was also enchanted by extra-textual elements ... Some of the plot twists felt false and cheap. There were parts of the murder case that seemed forced – the police detectives often came across as overly obtuse, in a trade-off for suspense ... Still, the main character will stay with me. I liked her animal-like movements, her hermit state. I liked her unique position in the world: something barely subject to human contact, yet which could not fully denounce her humanness: a humanness that would inevitably lead to yearning, love and – most prominently for Kya – pain. And I liked how in the face of such pain, there was every chance she might become, like any human animal, a deadly and ferocious beast.
Appreciating the fictional limitations of a feral recluse with no vocabulary or life skills, Owens provides tutors for Kya. As a result, the tone of the central section sometimes feels like YA, as Kya is instructed by a wise African American woman (one of the supporting characters who flirt with virtuous cliche) in the mysteries of men and menstruation ... But soon the narrative is satisfyingly reclaimed for older adults when at the local library Kya reads an article entitled Sneaky Fuckers in a science journal, which describes deceitful mating strategies ... She is a vivid and original character. At times, her survival in isolation comes close to superheroism, but Owens convincingly depicts the instincts and calculations that get Kya into and out of difficulties. Without too much sentimentality, there is a strong emotional line in her desire to have a 'shred of family'. The potential soppiness of a coming-of-age romance is also offset by the possibility that Kya is a murderer, although Owens has studied the big beasts of crime fiction sufficiently to leave room for doubt and surprises ... these themes will reach a huge audience though the writer’s old-fashioned talents for compelling character, plotting and landscape description.
...local lothario Chase Andrews is found dead, and Kya, now 23 and known as the 'Marsh Girl,' is suspected of his murder. As the local sheriff and his deputy gather evidence against her, the narrative flashes back to 1952 to tell Kya’s story. Abandoned at a young age by her mother, she is left in the care of her hard-drinking father. Unable to fit in at school, Kya grows up ignorant until a shrimper’s son, Tate Walker, befriends her and teaches her how to read. After Tate goes off to college, Kya meets Chase, with whom she begins a tempestuous relationship. The novel culminates in a long trial, with Kya’s fate hanging in the balance. Kya makes for an unforgettable heroine. Owens memorably depicts the small-town drama and courtroom theatrics, but perhaps best of all is her vivid portrayal of the singular North Carolina setting.
... the richness of Kya’s inner life, so evocative in earlier chapters, seems absent in the courtroom. For such an astute observer of living things, having spent years mesmerized by the feathers of night herons and mating patterns of bullfrogs, there’s little observation of the fresh humanity around her ... if the courtroom scenes aren’t as evocative and immersive as what came before, at least they’re compulsively readable, split into quick-cut interactions and capped by swelling closing arguments that scream out for life as a screenplay.
... Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens, the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. ... But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.