Where the Crawdads Sing

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Where the Crawdads Sing
Where The Crawdads Sing Book Cover.jpg
AuthorDelia Owens
LanguageAmerican English
GenreLiterary fiction
PublisherG.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
14 August 2018[1]

Where the Crawdads Sing is a 2018 novel by Delia Owens.[2] It has topped the The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2019 and the The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2020 for a combined 30 non-consecutive weeks.[3][4] The story follows two timelines that slowly intertwine. The first timeline describes the life and adventures of a young girl named Kya as she grows up isolated in the marsh of North Carolina from 1952–1969. The second timeline follows a murder investigation of Chase Andrews, a local celebrity of Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town of North Carolina.[2][1][5] The book was selected for Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club in September 2018[6] and for Barnes & Noble's Best Books of 2018.[7] By December 2019, the book has sold over 4.5 million copies, and it has sold more print copies in 2019 than any other adult title, fiction or non-fiction.[8] It was also No. 1 for 2019 on Amazon.com’s list of Most Sold Books in fiction.[9]

Delia Owens's 2018 novel Where the Crawdads Sing is set in a North Carolina marsh, where the "marsh girl" protagonist compares her wayward boyfriends to the "Sneaky Fuckers" she reads about in an ethology article.


Part I – The Marsh

In 1952, six-year-old Catherine Danielle Clark (nicknamed "Kya") watches her mother abandon her and her family. While Kya waits in vain for her mother's return, she witnesses her older siblings, Missy, Murph, Mandy, and eventually Jodie, all leave as well, due to their Pa's drinking and physical abuse.

After she is left alone with Pa, he temporarily stops drinking and teaches her to fish and gives her his knapsack to hold her collections of shells and feathers. Unable to read or write, Kya relies on painting with her Ma's old watercolors the birds or shores where she found the items.

One day Kya finds a letter in the mailbox. She recognizes it as having been sent from Ma, and she leaves it on the table for Pa to find. When Pa reads the letter, he becomes infuriated and burns the letter as well as most of Ma's wardrobe and canvases. He returns to drinking and takes long, frequent trips away to gamble. Eventually, he does not return at all, and Kya assumes he is dead, making him the last of the family to leave her alone in the marsh. Without money and family, she learns self-reliance, including gardening and trading fresh mussels and smoked-fish for money and gas from Jumpin', a black man who owns a gasoline station for boats. Jumpin' and his wife Mabel become lifelong good friends to Kya, and Mabel is enlisted to collect donated clothing to fit her.

As Kya grows up, she faces prejudice from the townspeople of Barkley Cove, NC, who nickname her "The Marsh Girl". She is laughed at by the schoolchildren the only day she goes to school and is called "nasty" and "filthy" by the pastor's wife. However, she becomes friendly with Tate Walker, an old friend of Jodie's who sometimes fishes in the marsh. When Kya gets lost one day, Tate leads her home in his boat. Years later, he leaves her feathers from rare birds, then teaches her how to read and write. The two form a romantic, yet platonic, relationship until Tate leaves for college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He realizes that Kya cannot live in his more civilized world because of how wild and independent she is, and leaves her without saying goodbye.

Part II – The Swamp

Years later, in 1965, when Kya is now 19, Chase Andrews, Barkley Cove's star quarterback and playboy, invites her to a picnic, during which he tries to have sex with her. He later apologizes, but the two form a romantic relationship. He shows her an abandoned fire tower, and she gives him a necklace of a shell he found during their picnic, strung on rawhide. Despite her suspicions, she believes Chase's promises of marriage and consummates their relationship in a cheap motel room in Asheville, NC. After shopping for groceries one day, she reads in the newspaper of Chase's engagement to another woman, and realizes that his promises of marriage were a ruse for sex. She ends their relationship after he attempts to rape her.

Tate, having graduated from college, visits Kya and is impressed by her expanded collection of seashells. He urges her to publish a reference book on seashells, and she does so in 1968 at age 22 under her full name. The book on shells is followed by one on seabirds. With the royalties that have been coming in, Kya hires a "fix-it man", who installs running water, a water heater, tub, sink, flush toilet and kitchen cabinets. She orders furniture and bedding from Sears Roebuck. The same year, Jodie, now in the Army, also returns in Kya's life, expressing regret that he left her alone and breaking the news that their mother had suffered from mental illness and of her death from leukemia two years prior. Kya forgives her mother for leaving, but still cannot understand why she never returned.

Kya is offered a chance to meet her publisher in Greenville, North Carolina. While she is away, Chase is found dead beneath the fire tower on the morning of October 30, 1969. The sheriff, Ed Jackson, believes it to be a murder on the basis of there being no tracks or fingerprints, including Chase's, around the tower. Ed speaks with a couple of sources and receives conflicting statements. He learns that the shell necklace that Kya gave to Chase was missing when his body was found, even though he wore it the night before. Kya was seen leaving Barkley Cove before the murder, then returning the day after, and was also observed speeding her boat toward the tower the night Chase died. There also were red wool fibers on Chase's jacket that belonged to a hat of Kya's. Convinced that she is the culprit responsible for Chase's murder, Ed traps Kya near Jumpin's wharf and jails her without bail for two months.

At Kya's trial in 1970, contradictory testimony is given. Kya's lawyer, Tom Milton, debunks the prosecutor's arguments on the basis that there was no concrete evidence to convict Kya. The jury finds her not guilty. Kya returns home and reconciles with Tate. They live together until Kya, at age 64, dies peacefully in her boat. Tate finds a hidden box of her old things and realizes that Kya wrote poems as Amanda Hamilton, the poet frequently quoted throughout the book. Tate also finds, underneath the poems, the shell necklace Chase wore until he died.


Ethology, the study of animal behavior, is a topic that is covered in the book. Kya reads about ethology, including an article entitled "Sneaky Fuckers", and uses her knowledge to navigate the tricks and dating rituals of the local boys. Kya compares herself to a female firefly, who uses her coded flashing light signal to lure a male of another species to his death, or to a female mantis who lures a male mate and starts eating the mate's head and thorax while his abdomen is still copulating with her. "Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers."[10][11]


  1. ^ a b Jordan, Tina (2019-03-29). "The Debut Novel That Rules the Best-Seller List". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-05.
  2. ^ a b Grey, Tobias (2018-11-12). "With 'Where the Crawdads Sing,' a Debut Novel Goes Big". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2019-04-05.
  3. ^ "Combined Print & E-Book Fiction, Bestsellers". New York Times. 2019.
  4. ^ "Combined Print & E-Book Fiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-02-02.
  5. ^ "Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens review – in the swamps of North Carolina | Books | The Guardian". web.archive.org. 2019-04-05. Retrieved 2019-04-05.
  6. ^ "Hello Sunshine". Hello Sunshine. Retrieved 2019-06-23.
  7. ^ Noble, Barnes &. "Barnes & Noble's Best Books of 2018, Best Books of the Year 2018, Books". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  8. ^ Alter, Alexandra (21 December 2019). "The Long Tail of 'Where the Crawdads Sing'". The New York Times.
  9. ^ Reid, Calvin (2019-12-05). "'Crawdads,' 'Becoming' Top Amazon 2019 Lists". Publisher's Weeekly. Retrieved 2019-12-07.
  10. ^ Lawson, Mark (12 January 2019). "Fiction | A US bestseller, this debut about a nature-loving girl growing up alone in southern swampland has wide appeal". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
  11. ^ Owens, Delia (2018). Where the Crawdads Sing. Corsair. pp. 183, 274. ISBN 978-0-7352-1909-0.

Further reading[edit]

Stasio, Marilyn (2018-08-17). "From a Marsh to a Mountain, Crime Fiction Heads Outdoors". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-04-05.