Sally Flint

Delia Owens has sold over 4 million copies of Where the Crawdads Sing, but I hadn't even heard of it - ouch!

Book Review of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing has received mixed reviews, yet it has sold 4 million copies! Reviewers have criticised it for reading like young adult fiction and lacking sophisticiation. It has been slated because a court room drama cannot sit side-by-side with a rich atmospheric account of living in the North Carolina marshes, writers have said that the tropes used are too obvious and the symbolism flawed. I didn’t overly notice any of these alleged faults and thought it was an excellent read from beginning to end.

Where the Crawdads Sing tells the story of Kya, who was forced into social isolation from the age of six after her whole family, one by one, left her. The final member to leave was her abusive father. Surviving almost entirely by herself, aided only by the occasional kindness of strangers and the steadfast kindness of black neighbour Jumini and his wife, she learns to hunt and cook in order to literally survive.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a tale of immense loneliness. Kya is ostracized and shunned by most of her neighbours. Known as the ‘marsh girl’ she is different to her neighbours, having a deep affinity with nature. It is the gulls she turns to in times of tremendous sorrow and grief. Kya is highly intelligent and to move the plot forward needs to read. Stage entrance, Tate, a local boy who for a while becomes her tutor, before he too leaves her.

Kya uses her knowledge of nature to understand relationships and clings to the false hope that all mothers eventually come back. She also attempts to understand her ill-fated relationship with village hearthrob Chaser through comparisons to nature. Eventually accused and acquitted of the murder of Chase, who ‘fell’ to his death through an open Fire Tower trap door we feel that Kya can finally find some peace in her life. A good murder mystery wouldn’t be satisfactory without a few twists and turns and that isn’t quite the end of the story of Where the Crawdads Sing.

I would love to ask Delia Owens, author of Where the Crawdads Sing, why Tate didn't like the poetry that Kya secretly wrote.

Book Discussion Questions on Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

  • We learn towards the end of the book that Kya’s mother had a breakdown after escaping the Marshes. Can you forgive her for not later rescuing the children? Why or why not? 
  • Trust is a key theme that runs through the book. For example, Kya’s brother Jodie told Kya to give Tate another chance, as he was only a young man when he first abandoned her and broke her trust? Was he right to do this?
  • Tate supports Kya throughout the murder trial. He seems unquestioningly accept all the evidence that points to her innocence and he is very surprised, at the end of her book to read her poem Fireflies. Do you think, though, that he ever thought her guilty and if so would it have stopped them from making a life together? 
  • There are many villians in Where the Crawdads Sing, but only one murderer. Discuss.
  • The ease with which Kya learns to read seems almost unbelievable? Were there any other parts of Where the Crawdads Sing that you found unbelievable? Did this spoil the story for you? 
  • Kya seeks comfort from nature and animals throughout the story. Do you think if she hadn’t lived alone she would have still have had such affinity with nature?
  • When Kya is on trial she knows that she may be facing the ‘death sentence’. However, she is far more afraid of being locked up in prison for years than dying. Discuss why this is the case. 
  • There is a dark twist at the end of the novel where we learn that Kya did in fact murder Chase. Does this change how you feel towards Kya? 
  • Why doesn’t Delia Owens share with us Kya’s secrets until the end of the novel? How did this make you feel as a reader? Did you admire Owen’s writing skills or did you feel duped by her and Kya?
  • Why does Owens tell the reader that Tate never really enjoyed Amanda Hamilton’s story?
  • Who would you cast in the key roles for the movie version of Where the Crawdads Sing? 
  • Racial segration is a secondary theme in Where the Crawdads Sing. How convincing is the portrayal of Kya’s relationship with Jumini and Mabel? 
  • It has been said that Where the Crawdads Sing is similar to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Why would someone make this claim? Do you think it is a fair statement to make?

Bookclub Questions for Where the Crawdads Sing (if you haven't read the book!)

  • The ending of Where the Crawdad’s Sing brings a surprising twist as we learn that Kya is actually the local poet Amanda Hamilton. We discover that her husband had no idea about this. Do you think it is ok to have ‘big secrets’ from your partner?
  • In various biographies, including Delia Owen’s own website, it is told that Owen’s mother, also an outside-girl, encouraged Delia to explore far into the oak forests, saying “Go way out yonder where the crawdads sing.” What does this mean? In what ways have your own mothers been encouraging influences in your lives? 
  • Could you survive living alone and having to provide your own food and shelter with very limited external resources available? How self sufficient are you? 
  • When reading reviews of Where the Crawdads Sing it is interesting to make parallels to Delia Owen’s own life. Do you think having biographical or contextual information about an author or text adds or detracts from the reading of fiction? 
  • For a while Kya is drawn to a fake fantasy that she could be (for want of a better phrase) one of the ‘cool kids’ getting along with Chase’s gang of friends. Have you ever longed for something that is unobtainable?

Summary of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Four million copies of Delia Owen’s Where the Crawdads Sing have been sold. Owen’s novel is constantly towards the top of the New York Times’ Best Seller List; she has been featured by Oprah and it is a Richard and Judy book club choice, yet until a couple of days ago I hadn’t even heard of it! As for reading about the potential murder investigation that would occur in Zambia should Owen’s ex-husband ever return there, well I’ll leave that for the salacious minded to find out about! For now, though I would definitely recommend that you join four million others and read Where the Crawdads Sing. A completely differnt style of book, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the next year or two it finds itself on various prize winning lists. I guess, of books I’ve recently read, it is most similiar to Tara Westover’s Educated, though of course that is an actual memoir rather than fiction.

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