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Discussion on Where the Crawdads Sing By Delia Owens

Warning: there are spoilers but they don’t occur until the point where I discuss things I disliked about the novel.

In addition, I clearly can’t get to Kya’s marshland in North Carolina right now so other than the book cover, all the photos were taken from Uplash and I have added the link to the author’s page on the website.

A couple of months ago Sophia Wodcke asked me and Shantel Brunton to participate in a podcast she was starting. She wanted to have some of the episodes be book club discussions. Tentatively, I said yes. Four months earlier when I started this blog, I had no idea that I would ever participate in something like it, but I thought ‘sure, this could be fun’.

Sophia suggested that for our first podcast we each just discuss a book of our choosing. She chose His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, not only a novel I have never read, but an author I have never read. Shantel chose Bambi and I loved her unique view on the book. As for me, I picked Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. If you have read my first blog you know how much I have researched this book and the places in Amsterdam where Jessie Burton must have wandered while developing her story.

The first podcast went fine. I was a bundle of nerves and as usual, I spoke far too fast. However, it went better than I imagined and helped pave the way for what I think is a much better second episode. In the second episode, we discussed Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owen. I thought it would be nice to follow up the podcast with a blog on the book, as I am now more knowledgeable on the novel and the author than I was when I read it for fun – ok participating in the podcast is fun too just the reading for it is different somehow.

In Where the Crawdads Sing, Owens writes about the life of Kya. She is a child abandoned in the swamps of North Caroline by her family.

Delia Owens photo taken from her webpage

A brief history of Owens: she has a PhD in Zoology and has spent time studying lions in a remote area of Botswana and elephants in Zambia. North Carolina (the setting for the novel) is where her family would spend their summers and this gave her a love of the state and the wilderness there. Not only is her love of nature, and life of any sort – plant or animal – apparent in this novel, the title of the book was inspired by something her mother would say to her as a child. Her mother used to encourage Delia to explore far into the oak forests, saying “Go way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”.

The main themes of the novel, and what Wodcke said really pulled her into the story, was the loneliness and isolation that Kya experiences. Wodcke said as a mother it made her feel so much empathy for Kya. It is hard to imagine how a person, let alone a child, could live a life of such seclusion.

Other themes in the book that clearly come from Owen’s childhood and background are the themes of animal and human nature. Kya observes animals in the wilderness and attempts to apply their behaviour to human behaviour. It is such an interesting analogy and there is so much symbolism behind it. At one point Kya ponders over a male bird with an eyebrow feather that has grown so long that the bird can hardly walk. The feather itself is meant to attract female birds for mating, similar to a strutting peacock. Kya compares this to Chase and Tate, the two boys/men who are in her life. Which brings about a few more of the many themes in the book: prejudice, trust, love, and education.

There were so many things I loved about this book that it is hard to know where to start:

  • The symbolism that Owens brings to the book, a lot of which have to do with nature. For instance, the light patterns of the fireflies, the way the crawdads roll up and off the shore, all the bird feathers and shells that Kya finds, each symbolize a link between nature in the swamp and her experience with humans. In the podcast, Shantel said that she specifically enjoyed this aspect of the novel as, even in our first podcast, it was clear she was an observer of animals, deer, wolves, etc.

  • The relationship Kya develops with Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel is such a treasure. The couple becomes in a way parental figures to Kya, important people that her life is missing. They support her in any way they can.

  • As I said in the introduction, the perseverance and determination of Kya to survive, to learn to read and to understand the biology of her swamp is so inspiring. In truth, I believe that a determined person can truly do all they want to do.

  • The knowledge the reader has of Tate, that Kya isn’t aware of, and how he really is a trustworthy and reliable person, despite a few events that occur.

  • Owens’ ability to write in the vernacular of the region was incredible. For example, likker for liquor, the ol' far towa for the old fire tower, dinah for dinner. It must be a difficult task to write this way. It reminded me of Mark Twain.

  • The timeline of the novel flips back and forth between the years through which Kya is growing up, and a timeline set in 1969 to 1970. I found it amazing that Owens could weave the two timelines together, developing the story through the use of each timeline.

As much as I loved this novel there were aspects, I found difficult to deal with and I kept having to remind myself that it is just a work of fiction, not a real story. One of these is how it could possibly be realistic for a 6-year-old to survive on her own in the Marsh. How could no one in the community help her? Her mother had a mental break down so I could possibly understand why she left, but when she recovered why didn’t she come and check on her children? Why did the older siblings, other than Jodie, not watch out for her? However, I suppose if these things had happened there would be no novel to write.

Another item that Shantel pointed out to us in the podcast is the character development. She felt the characters were based on archetypes giving the reader preconceived ideas of a person instead of developing the characters themselves. While I can see this for some characters such as Chase, I feel that Kya’s character was very well developed. She was a character that I felt I knew better and loved more as the novel progressed. Tate’s character development was somewhere in between the development of Kya and Chase. In him, I could see the empathy that he had for Kya grow, and the patience and his trustworthiness evolve through the story.

Another friend said to me that she didn’t like the novel because Kya’s character isn’t flawed. I find it remarkable how the novel has us viewing the prejudiced townspeople as the ‘bad people’ and Kya, a murderer, as the ‘good person’. How the reader can view Kya as flawless, but is she really when you think about it from a moral perspective?

When reading the story there were a couple of quotes from Kya’s mother that she remembered that made me smile. I really want to share them as I feel they represent a mother who you wouldn’t imagine abandoning her children. A mother who wants to ensure her daughters have the best chance in life.

The first one is from the day Kya’s mom takes all her daughters out in the boat and the boat gets stuck. This is ma's real lesson in life: You all listen now; this is a real lesson in life. Yes, we got stuck, but what’d we girls do? We made it fun, we laughed. That’s what sisters and girlfriends are all about. Sticking together even in the mud, ‘specially in the mud. It makes me sad that she had to leave Kya so early as she would have been able to help Kya figure out how to integrate better into society.

The other quote is from when Kya is listening for Chase’s boat, she thinks of her mother saying: Unworthy boys make a lot of noise. Unfortunately, sometimes I think this is true.

Here is the link to the podcast Sophia produced on this book for your listening pleasure.

Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing? What did you think of the novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it.

@authordeliaowens @sophiawodcke_stories @shantelbrunton @ putnambooks

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Karen Houlding
Karen Houlding
May 16, 2021

I'm intrigued by the descriptions of nature! I am putting this book on my summer reading list! Looking forward to hearing the podcast episode on this, too!

May 16, 2021
Replying to

In my view it is worth reading. You will love tha nature descriptions Karen.

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