This is a beautiful story and one that contains a timely and important message.
Where the Crawdads Sing, has received a lot of media attention and has become one of those books that many people recognise, regardless of whether they have read it or not. As a bookseller, I can say it went through the till more times than I can count during the lead up to Christmas.
But like all books that boast of popularity, I was sceptical before reading it. I read it during a bout of insomnia, which looking back, was quite lucky, as naturally, I couldn’t keep away from the pages, nor the story that unfolded.
I was completely invested in the protagonist, Kya, and how she was so attuned to her own solitude and made the best out of a bad situation. I wanted to see her develop as the story unfolded, and I appreciated her detailed descriptions of being at one with nature and the calamity that brings.
There is an element of the book that made me wince on more than one occasion, which leads me to discuss the portrayal of loneliness. She’s made fun of by people who live in the town beyond the Marsh (where her family home is) for being a “Marsh girl,” uneducated and removed from society. People start and spread rumours about her, which are never founded on truth. She’s treated as an outcast, without people even knowing her. This, in itself, says a lot about society misconceptions surrounding loneliness and solitude.
This book is a wonderful and perplexing work of art, but what I love about it, is its normalisation of solitude, and acceptance of wanting to live a simple life.
About the Book
Where the Crawdads Sing, follows the life of Kya Clark, who is called the “Marsh Girl” by those who do not know her. After her mother and siblings fled from their family home due to her father’s abuse and alcoholism, Kya eventually has to fend for herself. Her father’s visits get increasingly less frequent, and as a result, she turns to nature to try and scrape by.
Kya uses her father’s old boat to search the waters for fish and oysters that she sells in exchange for a small amount of money she then uses to buy grits and other necessities to live on. She soon meets Tate, who is not swayed by the town’s misconceptions around her, as he teaches her how to read.
The disappearance and murder of local boy, Chase Andrews, leads to all fingers pointing at Kya, despite any concrete evidence suggesting she was the culprit. In many ways, this is a coming of age story, as it documents the life of one girl besotted with nature who falls in love along the way, as she tries to navigate the pressures of a normal life.
But what does the book teach us about loneliness with its portrayal of Kya, and how does it encourage us to lead more simple lives?
Kya Is Not Lonely; She Is Just alone
“Sycamore and hickories stretched naked limbs against a dull sky, and the relentless wind sucked any joy the winter sun might have spread across the bleakness.”
We live in a society that believes it is strange when people say they enjoy their own company. There is a vast difference between being lonely and being alone. The two often get confused with the weight of societal expectations to constantly be doing more, and always, with other people. Kya is a victim of these misconceptions, as she is outed by the rest of the town has being a recluse, and someone to be avoided, because she lives in a hut down by the Marsh, all alone.
However, Kya is not lonely; she is alone. By circumstance, she finds herself alone because the rest of her family flees from her father, and as the year’s pass, his visits become less and less. Kya struggles to make ends meet at times but regularly finds comfort in nature, which is showcased by the beautiful descriptions of the North Carolina coast.
“She feels the pulse of life, he thought, because there are no layers between her and the planet.”
But Kya is alone, rather than a loner. She spends every day searching the shores, studying the plants and species around her, and documenting them with detailed drawings. When Tate enters the picture, she is cautious at first but grows to value his company. But overriding this is how much value she places on nature — it is her confide, and is far more predictable than people. Especially when the people in her town, already judge her by false misconceptions.
Because she is placed on this pedal stool of being weird and lonely, she is blamed for the murder of Chase Andrews, without the existence of any convincing evidence. It just shows how rumours, misconceptions and false judgements within a town can run rife — and change a person’s circumstances.
Delia Owens suggests we need to make it normal for people to enjoy their own company. There is so much value in being alone. After all, we are born into this world alone, and ultimately, have to learn to survive on our own.
When given the Opportunity, Kya Revels in Deep & Meaningful Relationships
“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”
Tate, who lives in the town, one day goes down to Kya’s hut by the Marsh and offers to help her learn how to read. Over the course of several months, he frequently spends time with her as she develops the skills to read and write, without going to school. Eventually, they find they are drawn to each other on a romantic level.
The strong relationship Kya develops with Tate shows how these misconceptions of her being reclusive are false. When Tate leaves to go to university, Kya struggles to come to terms with that and fill the hole he left.
But still, throughout the course of their relationship, people in the town start rumours, and Tate was even hesitant to open up about their relationship to his father. Kya also has a close relationship with the people she sells fish to; they lend her clothes and some things she needs to get by. She doesn’t exclude people from her life, but the townspeople who barely know her, like to think she does and can’t deal with socialising. Rather, they exclude her.
Once given the opportunity, and when people show their trust, Kya has a remarkable ability to open her heart. And this has many fallbacks, as it’s broken quite a few times.
The Importance of Finding Contentment in Our Own Surroundings
“For Kya, it was enough to be part of this natural sequence as sure as the tides. She was bound to her planet and its life in a way few people are. Rooted solid in this earth. Born of this mother.”
Kya had to be resourceful right from the start, and in some ways, being confined to her immediate surroundings was not a choice. But later on in the book, when she lands a hefty advance for a book deal and has the money to move, she chooses not to. She’s too in love with the Marsh, and the nature right on her doorstep; no place else could quite feel like home.
Even when Kya is an adult and earning a good salary, not once does she think about escaping to someplace new or buying lots of new things just because she can. She spends her money on doing the place up and making it more functional, but that’s the bare minimum. She draws her contentment from nature and falling more in love with the beauty around her.
Throughout this, Owens gives us an important message. Money is necessary because it gives us security, but it can never give us constant happiness. Therefore, we have to find beauty and contentment from the things that give us joy and the surroundings that encompass us. You can find beauty in everything, if you look hard enough, and Kya certainly does.
Kya likes to spend her time pottering along the Marsh, consistently studying new species, documenting them, drawing pictures and writing books. She lives a simple life, with very few complications. She has a handful of friends and acquaintances she sees now and again — and is content and happy. And what a beautiful and refreshing message that is.
Where the Crawdads Sing is as heartwarming as it is gripping and contains so many messages for the reader to reflect on. The number one being that we should never facilitate false judgements on other people, before knowing the full story. Also, we should grow to be content with the life we have, rather than always striving for something else.
Kya is an intriguing protagonist who has an admirable attachment to nature, and her character defies the misconceptions associated with loneliness. Delia Owens provides us with a compelling story, told by a fascinating narrator, all with imperative messages about life intertwined throughout. This is a must-read.