Where the Crawdads Sing

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Where the Crawdads Sing
AuthorDelia Owens
GenreLiterary fiction
PublisherG. P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
August 14, 2018[1]

Where the Crawdads Sing is a 2018 coming-of-age[2][3] murder mystery novel by American zoologist Delia Owens.[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 marshes of North Carolina. The second timeline follows an investigation into the apparent murder of Chase Andrews, a local celebrity of Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town of North Carolina.[1][4][5]

By April 2023, the book had sold over 18 million copies. A film adaptation was released in July 2022.


Part I: The Marsh[edit]

In 1952, six-year-old Catherine Danielle Clark (nicknamed "Kya") watches her mother abandon her and her family due to violent abuse from her husband, Kya's father. While Kya waits in vain for her mother's return, she witnesses her older siblings, Missy, Murph, Mandy, and Jodie, all leave as well, due to their father's drinking and physical abuse. After her mother leaves, her father burns most of her mother's wardrobe and paintings.

Alone with her father—who temporarily stops drinking—Kya learns to fish. Her father gives her his knapsack to hold her collections of shells and feathers. The illiterate Kya paints these shells and feathers, as well as the marsh's creatures and shorelines, with watercolors her mother left behind.

One day Kya finds a letter from her mother in the mailbox and leaves it for her father to find, as she cannot read. When she returns to their home, she finds that he has burned the letter. 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 survives by gardening and trading fresh mussels and smoked fish for money and gas from Jumpin', a black man who owns a gasoline station at the boat dock. Jumpin' and his wife Mabel become lifelong friends to Kya, and Mabel collects donated clothing for her.

As Kya grows up, she faces prejudice from the townspeople of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, who nickname her "The Marsh Girl." She is laughed at by the schoolchildren on the only day she goes to school and is called "nasty" and "filthy" by a pastor's wife. However, she becomes friendly with Tate Walker, an old friend of Jodie's who sometimes fishes in the marsh. When Kya loses her bearings 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 relationship until Tate leaves for college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He promises to return, yet later realizes 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[edit]

Delia Owens's novel is set in a North Carolina marsh like the one illustrated above.

In 1965, Kya is 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, and 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 a rawhide string. Despite her suspicions, she believes Chase's promises of marriage and consummates their relationship in a cheap motel room in Asheville, North Carolina. After seeing in a newspaper that Chase has become engaged, Kya realizes his promises of marriage were a ruse. She then ends their relationship.

Tate, having graduated from college, visits Kya and attempts to apologize for having left her and confesses his love for her. Still hurt from his betrayal, she rejects him. Despite this, she allows him inside her shack, and he is impressed by her expanded collection of seashells. He urges her to publish a reference book on seashells, and she does so as well as on seabirds. With the extra money, she renovates her home. The same year, Jodie, now in the Army, also returns to Kya's life, expressing regret he left her alone and breaking the news their mother had suffered from mental illness and died of leukemia two years previously. Kya forgives her mother for leaving but still cannot understand why she never returned. After advising Kya to give Tate a second chance, Jodie sets off for Georgia, leaving Kya a note with his phone number and address.

Some time later, while relaxing in a cove, Kya is confronted by Chase. After an argument ensues, Chase attacks Kya, beating her and attempting to rape her. She fends him off and loudly threatens to kill him if he doesn't leave her alone. The encounter is witnessed by two fishermen nearby. Back at her shack, Kya fears that reporting the assault would be futile as the town would blame her for "being loose". The next week, she witnesses Chase boating up to her shack and hides until he leaves. Remembering her father's abuse, Kya fears retaliation from Chase, knowing "these men had to have the last punch".

Kya is offered a chance to meet her publisher in Greenville, North Carolina, and takes the bus there to meet him. After she returns home the next day, some young boys find Chase dead beneath the fire tower. 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 sources and receives conflicting statements. He learns the shell necklace Kya gave to Chase was missing when his body was found, even though he wore it the night he died. Kya was seen leaving Barkley Cove before the murder, then returning the day after Chase died. There also were red wool fibers on Chase's jacket that belonged to a hat Tate had given to Kya. Convinced she is the culprit, Ed arrests Kya near Jumpin's wharf, charges her with first-degree murder, and jails her without bail for two months.

At Kya's trial in 1970, only contradictory and circumstantial evidence is provided. Kya's lawyer, Tom Milton, debunks the prosecutor's arguments as there was no evidence that Kya was at the fire tower on the night of Chase's death. The jury finds her not guilty. She returns home and reconciles with Tate. They live together in her shack until she dies peacefully in her boat at the age of 64. Later, while searching for Kya's will and other documents, Tate finds a hidden box with some of her old possessions and poems she had written. He finds a poem that alludes to Chase's murder, and, underneath the poems, the shell necklace Chase wore. Tate burns the poems and the rawhide string before dropping the shell onto the beach. Kya is buried on her property near the shack.


Ethology, the study of animal behavior, is a topic that is covered in the book. Kya reads about ethology, including an article titled "Sneaky Fuckers", where she learns about female fireflies, who use their coded flashing light signal to lure a male of another species to his death, and about female mantises who lure a male mate and start eating the mate's head and thorax while his abdomen is still copulating with her.[6]

Female fireflies draw in strange males with dishonest signals and eat them; mantis females devour their own mates. Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers.[7]: 274 

Meaning of title[edit]

Crawdad is an American slang word for crayfish: these crustaceans cannot sing, but when Kya's mother encouraged her to explore the marsh, she would often say: "Go as far as you can — way out yonder where the crawdads sing." When Tate also used the phrase, she asked him the meaning and he replied: "Just means far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters." Delia Owens was inspired to use the phrase because her own mother had used it when she was a child.[8]


The book was selected for Reese Witherspoon's book club in September 2018[9] and for Barnes & Noble's Best Books of 2018.[10]

By December 2019, the book had sold over 4.5 million copies, and it sold more print copies in 2019 than any other adult title, fiction or non-fiction.[11][12] It topped The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2019 and The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2020.[13][14] By February 2022, the book had spent 150 weeks on the best seller list.[15] By April 2022, the book had sold 12 million copies;[16] by July 2022, 15 million copies;[17] and by April 2023, 18 million copies,[18] making it one of the best-selling books of all time.[19][20][21][22]

Since "crawdad" is a regional term, it sparked a rise in online queries about the word's meaning.[23]

Aspects of Kya's life and the novel's narrative choices, including its attitude towards its Black characters, are said to be reminiscent of Owens' time in Zambia, where she, her then husband, and his son are still wanted for questioning in the killing of a poacher captured on film in a 1996 report by ABC News. Owens is not a suspect, but is considered a potential witness, co-conspirator, and accessory to felony crimes.[24]

Film adaptation[edit]

Sony Pictures Releasing bought the film rights to the book, and Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine production company produced the film, with Witherspoon and Lauren Neustadter as co-producers. Lucy Alibar adapted the book to film script.[25][26][27] Daisy Edgar-Jones plays Kya,[28] with Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson as Tate Walker and Chase Andrews, respectively.[15] Filming took place from mid-April through mid/late-June 2021 in and around New Orleans and Houma, Louisiana.[29] On July 5, 2021, Cosmopolitan reported that filming had wrapped.[30] The film was released on July 15, 2022.

The soundtrack album is by Canadian composer Mychael Danna.[31] Taylor Swift also contributed an original song, "Carolina", to the soundtrack.[32]


  1. ^ a b Jordan, Tina (March 29, 2019). "The Debut Novel That Rules the Best-Seller List". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 2, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  2. ^ Alter, Alexandra (December 21, 2019). "The Long Tail of 'Where the Crawdads Sing'". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2022.
  3. ^ Owens, Delia (November 19, 2019). "Education, Coming of Age, and Adulthood: Theme Analysis". LitCharts. Retrieved July 21, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Grey, Tobias (November 12, 2018). "With 'Where the Crawdads Sing,' a Debut Novel Goes Big". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on May 9, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  5. ^ "Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens review – in the swamps of North Carolina". The Guardian. April 5, 2019. Archived from the original on April 5, 2019. Retrieved April 5, 2019.
  6. ^ Lawson, Mark (January 12, 2019). "Fiction | A US bestseller, this debut about a nature-loving girl growing up alone in southern swampland has wide appeal". The Guardian. Archived from the original on January 12, 2019. Retrieved January 13, 2019.
  7. ^ Owens, Delia (2018). Where the Crawdads Sing. Corsair. pp. 183, 274. ISBN 978-0-7352-1909-0.
  8. ^ Weston, Christopher (July 19, 2022). "Where the Crawdads Sing honours author's mother's phrase with childhood link". HITC. Retrieved July 21, 2022.
  9. ^ "Hello Sunshine". Hello Sunshine. Archived from the original on June 20, 2019. Retrieved June 23, 2019.
  10. ^ "Barnes & Noble's Best Books of 2018, Best Books of the Year 2018, Books". Barnes & Noble. Archived from the original on May 22, 2019. Retrieved June 24, 2019.
  11. ^ Alter, Alexandra (December 21, 2019). "The Long Tail of 'Where the Crawdads Sing'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 15, 2021. Retrieved July 13, 2021.
  12. ^ Reid, Calvin (December 5, 2019). "'Crawdads,' 'Becoming' Top Amazon 2019 Lists". Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on December 6, 2019. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  13. ^ "Combined Print & E-Book Fiction, Bestsellers". The New York Times. 2019. Archived from the original on March 7, 2016. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  14. ^ "Combined Print & E-Book Fiction Books - Best Sellers". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 26, 2019. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  15. ^ a b "Combined Print & E-Book Fiction best sellers February 20, 2022". New York Times. February 20, 2022. Archived from the original on February 26, 2022. Retrieved February 20, 2022.
  16. ^ Moir, Tammy (April 4, 2022). "'Where the Crawdads Sing' is back on the best sellers list". Happy Media. Archived from the original on July 27, 2022. Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  17. ^ Lonsdale, John (July 15, 2022). "'Where the Crawdads Sing' Soars Back to Top of Bestsellers List Ahead of Box Office Debut". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on August 6, 2022. Retrieved July 27, 2022.
  18. ^ "Delia Owens". Delia Owens Official Website. Archived from the original on April 5, 2023. Retrieved April 2, 2023.
  19. ^ "Where the Crawdads Sing (Hardcover)". Ampersand Books. Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  20. ^ "Where the Crawdads Sing". Penguin Random House Canada. A Penguin Random House Company. Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  21. ^ Owens, Delia (August 14, 2018). Where the Crawdads Sing. Penguin. ISBN 978-0735219090.
  22. ^ "Where the Crawdads Sing". Books-A-Million. Retrieved May 2, 2022.
  23. ^ "Trending" 'crawdad' (2019-03-19)". Miriam-Webster News Trend Watch. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Archived from the original on November 17, 2019. Retrieved April 18, 2020.
  24. ^ "Where the Crawdads Sing Author Wanted for Questioning in Murder" by Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic. July 11, 2022. Accessed July 15, 2022.
  25. ^ Lin, Jennifer Marie (July 9, 2020). "Where the Crawdads Sing Movie: What We Know". The Bibliofile. Archived from the original on August 11, 2020. Retrieved July 16, 2020.
  26. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (March 11, 2020). "Sony, Elizabeth Gabler & Reese Witherspoon Set Scribe For 'Where The Crawdads Sing': 'Beasts Of The Southern Wild's Lucy Alibar". Deadline. Archived from the original on April 21, 2020. Retrieved May 3, 2020.
  27. ^ Borys, Kit (July 21, 2020). "'Where the Crawdads Sing' Movie Adaptation Finds Its Director". Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on March 2, 2021. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  28. ^ Goldsmith, Annie (October 22, 2020). "Reese Witherspoon Is Turning Where the Crawdads Sing into a Movie". Town and Country Magazine. Archived from the original on January 17, 2021. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
  29. ^ "MCF". mycastingfile.com. Archived from the original on March 24, 2021. Retrieved March 19, 2021.
  30. ^ Scott, Daniella (July 5, 2021). "Everything we know about Where the Crawdads Sing film adaptation". Cosmopolitan. Archived from the original on July 10, 2021. Retrieved July 9, 2021.
  31. ^ "Inside the 'Where The Crawdads Sing' Soundtrack".
  32. ^ Grantham-Philips, Wyatte; Grantham-Philips, Wyatte (March 22, 2022). "'Where the Crawdads Sing' Trailer Features Daisy Edgar-Jones and New Taylor Swift Song". Variety. Retrieved March 22, 2022.

Further reading[edit]