It is hard to ignore a book that has stood atop the NYTime Best Seller list for 21 weeks as of 15 August 2019. The book was chosen in April for our September Gables Book Club selection to insure that members could get on a waiting list to borrow it. It was worth the wait for sure.
The prologue sets the stage for the novel and immediately creates the tension that the reader will experience throughout its course. A body has been found by two young boys and the sheriff of the small town embarks on an investigation as to whether it is an accident or murder.
Set in Barkley Cove, North Carolina, it is the story of Catherine Clark, known as Kya or The Marsh Girl. At the novel's onset, Kya is 7 years old and lives in the swamp with her parents and siblings. Not being able to take the abuse of her husband any longer, her Ma up and leaves the house one day, abandoning Kya and her brother. Not long after, Kya's brother Jodie leaves and Kya is left on her own with her alcoholic father, who is sometimes present and more often, not. Pa eventually leaves her when she is 10. In order to sustain her life, Kya resorts to harvesting oysters and trading them to Jumpin', the owner of a gas station and fishing supply store, for food, gas, and other necessities. His wife, Mabel, also becomes a surrogate mother to her and helps her with clothing and guidance through puberty.
Although brought to school one day when she was six by a truant officer, Kya was ridiculed by the other children and never returned. She became self-sufficient and self-reliant. The novel retells her childhood and young adulthood in alternating chapters of flashback and present day. Jumping from 1952 to 1969, the reader learns that one of the town's notable citizens, Chase Andrews, has been found dead, apparently having fallen from the local fire tower.
When she was 14, Kya met Tate Walker who befriends her and teaches her to read. Their relationship blossoms into love but Tate, who is 4 years older, insists that making love waits until she is older. He leaves for college, promising to return to her. Once again she is abandoned. She spends her time collecting and sketching wildlife in the marsh. She becomes quite the naturalist. When she is 19 she meets Chase, who professes to be in love with her and convinces her to have sex with him. He woos her with the premise that he wants to marry her.
When Tate returns to Barkley Cove, a biologist, to research the marsh, he visits Kya and asks for forgiveness. Not wanting to be hurt again, she refuses. He does, however, convince her to submit her drawings to a publisher. The description of her specimens and her observatory powers are fascinating.
As one who knew Chase and was an easy scapegoat, Kya was charged with his murder and stands trial. To see how that ends, you will need to read the novel, because I do not want to include any more spoilers here.
This is definitely one novel not to be missed. Although the alternating chapters and date changes can be a bit problematic until the reader understands what Owens is doing, it was a heart-wrenching and emotional read. Kya is an endearing character and the chutzpah she shows in her maturation is laudable. Infused with themes of abandonment, loneliness, class and racial divides, and lost love, Where the Crawdads Sing will be one of those novels that will stand the test of time.