In Crawdads, Kya is raised in the marshes, her mother and siblings fleeing her drunken father, until he eventually leaves her too. She lives on her own, but when the outside world finally comes to call, she ends up facing a murder charge. That the book took Owens 10 years to write is catnip to readers, many dreaming of writing their own hit novel. Owens slept with a torch and a pad and pen next to her, noting down thoughts that occurred to her in the middle of the night.
At first glimpse, Crawdads might seem like a gentle book. Readers are likely to warm to the exacting, filmic descriptions (Reese Witherspoon’s production company is currently developing the movie). Crabs burying themselves in the swash, the moon “pull[ing] herself naked from the waters”, mud holes revealing “a profusion of detailed stories”; the natural world is brought intensely to life. But if this is a gentle book, it is only as gentle as an animal, as gentle as the weather, as gentle as the tide: which is to say that beneath everything, there is a wild and dangerous energy.
...a vivid and original character. At times, her survival in isolation comes close to superheroism, but Owens convincingly depicts the instincts and calculations that get Kya into and out of difficulties... The potential soppiness of a coming-of-age romance is also offset by the possibility that Kya is a murderer, although Owens has studied the big beasts of crime fiction sufficiently to leave room for doubt and surprises... themes will reach a huge audience though the writer’s old-fashioned talents for compelling character, plotting and landscape description.
The best parts of the book are those that are largely eventless — whole chapters devoted to the smallest of things — as the ill-fated meeting with Chase draws nearer... For a debut the prose is impressively accomplished, only towards the end tarnished by what feels like an amateurish rush to conclude... A Hollywood adaptation seems inevitable. Yet it will be hard to match on screen the delicacy of Owens’s exploration of the natural world. Kya and her magical little world are a rare achievement.
The wildlife scientist Delia Owens has found her voice in Where the Crawdads Sing, a painfully beautiful first novel that is at once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature. The author, with her husband, Mark, of three books about southern Africa, Owens here surveys the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast through the eyes of an abandoned child. And in her isolation that child makes us open our own eyes to the secret wonders — and dangers — of her private world.