Two things really stood out to me about this book
- It made me really hungry
- It is outstanding
Adverts and recommendations for Crawdads seem to have been following me all year, it was only after writing my mid-year review that I picked it up.
It’s the story of Kya, a young girl, learning to survive alone in the North Carolina swamp after being abandoned by her family. She’s nicknamed the ‘marsh girl’ by locals in the village who leave her ostracised and see her only as white trash rather than the vulnerable girl in need of love and protection.
When popular, rich, good looking, all American quarter-back Chase Andrews is found dead in suspicious circumstances all eyes turn to Kya.
Set in the 50s and 60s the chapters flip between the present murder investigation and Kya’s life. It’s part murder mystery, part coming of age story, part love story, part courtroom drama; however, it explores prejudice, loneliness, isolation and abandonment. I couldn’t put it down.
I’ll come back to the story shortly but to start with
I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THE FOOD….
At 6, Kya is forced to fend for herself to begin with she relies of grits for sustenance even musing “I don’t know how to do life without grits”, young and starving, food is a huge part of her life and memories. The highlight of her one failed attempt at going to school is the lunch served, chicken pie reminds her of her mum, she has one positive day out in a diner with her Pa.
The way food and (some) of Kya’s meals are written about is mouth-watering. I want the Blackberry cobbler, fried chicken, the hush puppies and shrimp with pimiento cheese grits, though not in that order.
There were times in this book where I was salivating over food with Kya. I’ve basically come away from this book with a renewed desire to eat my way around America.
Now, back to the main thrust of the story, I’ve really tried not to give anything away…..
Away from food, all Kya knows is her surroundings she learns from nature, she observes the animals of marsh, convincing herself her Ma will come back because mother animals always return to their young. As she grows, she realises that no one is coming back for her, she lives with the isolation and becomes distrusting of most people. She’s sensitive and intelligent and much more than the ‘wild marsh girl’ she’s painted as.
Her friendship and relationship with Tate begins with him teaching her to read, she slowly lets her guard down around him until again she’s abandoned and her final shred of trust is destroyed.
She’s further damaged by Chase’s treatment of her.
I enjoyed the references to nature (I learnt a few things) and how it informs Kya’s view of the world. I had to laugh while she recalled a chapter in text book called ‘sneaky fuckers’ that describes deceitful mating techniques in nature, including bull frogs who stay close to the alpha male to trick females into thinking he’s the alpha male.
Kya does learn to let people in and take a risk, she learns to trust and love again:
“Tate’s devotion eventually convinced her that human love is more than the bizarre mating competitions of the marsh creatures, but life also taught her that ancient genes for survival still persist in some undesirable forms among the twists and turns of man’s genetic code.
For Kya, it was enough to be part of this natural sequence as sure as the tides. She was bonded to her planet and its life in a way few people are. Rooted solid in this earth. Born of this mother”. Delia Owens
The real strength of this novel is Delia Owens use of prose. It’s written exquisitely. I felt as though I was with Kya on every boat trip, in her shack, exploring the marshes, I could hear the birds and the buzz of the critters.
The town itself, Barkley Cove, brought ‘To kill a mockingbird’ to mind, the small-town prejudices and views. Kya is an outcast because of the extreme poverty she’s born into, her one friend and father-like figure Jumpin’ is subjected to racist abuse from teenagers. Discrimination drives the town into a frenzy, she has to be the killer because she’s an ‘oddball’. It’s an observation on prejudice, racism, sexism and relationships that is still as relevant today as it was in the 60s.
Owens builds tension throughout the story; I don’t think a book has ever made me feel nervous about continuing reading whilst at the same time constantly hooking me in to find out what’s next – I had tension backache towards the end and was hiding one eye behind a cushion.
Crawdads is moving, emotional, and an incredible read – I can’t recommend it enough.
Now, pass me a map I have food road trip to plan any recommendations welcome.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm