Where the Crawdads Sing
I may be a little late to the game with this review since Where the Crawdads Sing has been garnering attention for over 4 years now. I actually read it when it came out but wasn’t doing adult book reviews at that point. With the new movie bringing it to the top of best-seller lists again, I re-read and revisited my thoughts on this much-lauded book. As I re-read it (and stayed up too late) I remembered why it’s a bestseller. And then I remembered why I ended up hating it.
SPOILER ALERT: This review is going to utterly spoil the big reveal about the murder mystery. Sorry folks; I’m going to recommend against reading it anyway.
Busy Mom Quick Synopsis
6 year old Kya watches her mother, siblings, and father abandon her one after another. With minimal community support, she scratches out a precarious survival alone in the marsh. As she comes of age, she desperately seeks love and acceptance in the wrong places. A mysterious and isolated woman living alone in the swamp, the townspeople regard her with suspicion. When the town’s golden boy is murdered, fingers quickly begin to point Kya’s way. Does she have a single friend to defend her?
Why it’s a best-seller
First of all, it’s a beautifully written story about nature. That’s not a compliment I hand out lightly. Delia Owens must have a deep love of the flora and fauna of the North Carolina marshes. Her genuine delight in natural beauty and belief in the healing power of nature make this book memorable. As a fellow nature lover, I enjoyed her descriptions of the wonder of God’s creation.
Secondly, it’s a heart-warming story. An abandoned young girl from an abusive family beats the odds to educate herself and build a successful career as a writer and illustrator. It’s the stuff of Hallmark movies and human interest articles. Honestly, it’s so far-fetched it strains credibility.
Third, it’s a fast-moving storyline with a murder mystery intertwined. It keeps you turning the pages after your bedtime.
Why I don’t recommend Where the Crawdads Sing
First and foremost, skip this book because of the gratuitous sex scenes. There are multiple fade-out to fully described scenes, some with an underage teen Kya, along with a rape scene. Can you skip over them fairly easily? Yes, you see where the scene is going and can skip a few pages. Did they need to be in this book? Nope. They add nothing to the story and feel voyeuristic. And they definitely make this book a hard no for teens.
On a more philosophical level, I disliked the theme about people being fundamentally highly evolved animals. Kay interprets human interactions in animal terms, perhaps not completely unnaturally given her isolated life. But the author does not lead the reader to the conclusion that Kya is wrong here. Kya’s morality is a Darwinistic survival of the fittest code of ethics. And this leads to the ending, which I hated.
Throughout the book, the big conflict is whether Kya is guilty of the blatant murder of her former boyfriend Chase. As the reader, you’re assuming soft-spoken and nature-loving Kya is innocent. You’re condemning the townspeople for prejudice and judgment against an eccentric outlier. When her lawyer brings forward enough doubt to convince a jury to acquit her, you’re cheering.
But then… the last pages of the book, you realize she did it. She cold-bloodedly plotted the murder of the ex-boyfriend who lied to and later attacked her. Was he a horrible human being? Yes. Does this make me feel any better about the “heroine” murdering him with full intent and not in self-defense? No.
What bothered me most about this jarring conclusion was the feeling that throughout the entire book, the author is trying to set up the reader to condone the murder. It’s like Delia Owens is trying to have the reader walk away going, “Well, maybe murder is okay, sometimes.”
Not a conclusion that sits well with me!