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.