...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.
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.
... 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.