Slowly, she unravelled each word of the sentence. ‘“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”’

‘Oh,’  she said. ‘Oh.’

‘You can read, Kya. There will never be a time when you can’t read.’

‘It ain’t just that.’ She spoke almost in a whisper.’ I wadn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know that a sentence could be so full.’

He smiled. ‘That’s a very good sentence. Not all words hold so much.’”


Catherine ‘Kya’ Clark, the protagonist of Delia Owens’ much-acclaimed Where the Crawdads Sing, is a beautiful wild child, at one with her surroundings.

Abandoned first by her mother, then her older siblings and finally her abusive father, she is left to fend for herself, pretty much from the age of six. She learns about life from observing nature and the wildlife she loves so much, ‘the marsh [becoming] her mother’.

As a teenager, Kya is introduced to the power of words by Tate Walker, one of the young men who become fascinated by her; he teaches her to read from ‘his dad’s copy of Aldo Leopald’s A Sand Country Almanac’. Labelled ‘swamp trash’ and ‘Marsh Girl’ by the local townsfolk, Kya is a figure of mystery and the subject of gossip and innuendo. When the body of Chase Andrews, local golden boy, is found, the investigation focuses on outcast Kya, with devastating consequences.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautiful book: at times poignant, devastating and lyrical. We experience the innocence, joy and sheer magnificence of Kya’s day-to-day world through her eyes – lovingly painted by Owens, who draws on her not inconsiderable expertise as a wildlife scientist. In contrast, the ‘real world’ of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, seems far more savage, the townsfolk bigoted and mean, fearful of anyone deviating from the norm; as such, Kya, who is so very different, comes under brutal scrutiny.

Kya herself is a finely drawn character, her aloneness and isolation sometimes so acute that it’s painful. She’s also mesmerising, intelligent and uniquely herself and it’s these qualities that bind the few people whom she does let in so closely to her.

If I have one very minor bugbear, it’s that the ending possibly ties up things a little too well, and yet the detailed depictions of Kya’s environment, so wonderfully evoked through Owens’ layered prose, turn this into something rather special. It’s thus no surprise the increasingly powerful Reese Witherspoon adopted it for her book club, nor that her company, Hello Sunshine, is producing the feature film for Fox 2000.


Where the Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens | Corsair | hardback | £14.99

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Acknowledgements: Quoted book text © Delia Owens 2018. Many thanks to Grace Vincent, Senior Publicity Manager for Little, Brown, for sending us a review copy. Photography © The Literary Shed 2019. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola’s Gothic novel‘; ‘Midland‘; ‘The stark beauty of William Shaw’s Salt Lane‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘We should all be feminists’; ‘Jane Harper’s stylish debut – The Dry’; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beautiful words – The Language of Secrets’; ‘Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng’s rising star’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; To Kill a Mockingbird (1962 trailer); The beauty of Sara Taylor’s The Shore’; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”’; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.