Delia Owens’ debut novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, hurt my heart from its first page to its last. The NY Times got it right when they called it, “Painfully heartbreaking”.
I had extremely high expectations for this book. It currently holds a 5 star rating on Amazon out of 9,000+ customer reviews and a 4.53 average rating on Goodreads. I expected to love this book and also give it 5 stars, but expectations are funny things and I believe mine were set too high. While I liked it a lot, it didn’t break my top 10 favorite books of all time. To me, it was a 4-star read. Which, I think, is still pretty high praise!
Here’s the synopsis from the back of the book:
“For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.
Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.” (Owens, Delia. Where the Crawdads Sing, 2018)
The story continues to sit with me; I still find myself thinking about it. After I finished reading, I needed to tell someone about it. As usual, my husband found himself on the receiving end of my book babble. The more I explained the plot and how I felt about it, the more I realized – Delia Owens is brilliant. The writing alone is beyond beautiful. I was immediately drawn in. Not only could I vividly see the marsh, but I was there watching the story unfold. I breathed in the salt water and could taste it. I heard the gulls and gentle waves. I touched the mud. I’ve never experienced a book with every sense before. The prose was powerful and nothing short of incredible. It was atmospheric.
Onto the story. Kya is abandoned by her mother and then one by one, her older siblings, until she’s left alone, at age 6, with her abusive, violent, drunk father. What I couldn’t understand, and still don’t, is why none of them took her with them – especially her mother or the brother she was closest to, Jodie. It still doesn’t make sense and was a sticking point for me. At 10 years old her father leaves and never comes back; she is now forced to raise herself and survive in the marsh. Kya reminded me of a modern day, poetic version of Mowgli, raised by the earth and the gulls. She’s isolated and abandoned, but finds solace in nature. Her attachment to the Earth, specifically the marsh, affects her entire life. She has the look of a human but the instincts of an animal.
What I found most endearing though, was her relationship with a Black man, Jumpin’, who owned the little wharf where she gets gas for her boat. He and his wife, Mabel, become her surrogate parents in a way. I really loved any scene with them. To me, they embody the goodness in mankind. While the townspeople who blame her for everything, remind me of how awful human beings can be.
I’ve never been into mysteries, but this book was way more than a just a “whodunit” plot. It was also a coming of age story and an incredibly beautiful portrait of nature. Until the later half of the book, I had little concern for the mystery element. However, the ending took me by surprise; I gasped audibly. I don’t want to ruin it for any future readers, so I won’t discuss the details. But I will say, it was all I could talk about for a week.
Because I was so enthralled with this book, I forgot to drink anything, including water! Seriously, I woke up in the middle of the night after I finished reading with such severe dry mouth. I realized I hadn’t drank anything all afternoon while I read.
However, since this book has stayed with me for so long, I had time to reflect over a glass of wine (or 3). I decided to pair it with one of my favorite wines from Bright Cellars, Strange One. Both the name and the fact that the label has animals on it, reminded me of Kya. Owens often describes her through animal references. The wine reminded me of this quote from the book, “How tormented, isolated, and strange” (Owens 156).
If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a HUGE fan of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. If I’m at a restaurant and order wine, I typically choose a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Doesn’t even matter if I’ve never had the wine, chances are I won’t be disappointed if the bottles says Marlborough. With this wine, it was love at first sip!
The wine is light-bodied and refreshing. I love a wine with citrus flavors and this one does not disappoint. It has notes of grapefruit, lemon, lime, and orange peel. The taste is subtle and crisp. It’s basically sunshine in a bottle.
An airy wine with an atmospheric book – the perfect pair.
Have you ever experienced a book with all five senses?
If you’re interested in checking out Bright Cellars, use my referral link to get a $50 credit on your first order!
*I was not compensated for my review. All thoughts and images are my own.*