We are pleased to welcome a new reviewer, Damean, who has joined the BPL staff. Damean is an author and proud Appalachian native.
Reviewed by Damean
When Chase Andrews is found dead in the mud on the outskirts of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, eyes fall on local "Marsh Girl" Kya. Kya, who has raised herself on the land since she was a young girl, is something of a legend and a recluse, and locals are more than happy to pin what looks like a murder on the wild woman of the swamp. This bestseller tells the story of Kya's life leading up to and after the discovery of the body.
I must start by saying this book absolutely blew me away. It grabbed my attention fast and held me through every page, quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite novels. Owens tells an incredible story with such attention to detail it feels like you could be standing in the weeds with Kya watching the birds flock. From the first paragraph, I was drawn into the story and felt immense connection to Kya in her struggles.
From run-ins with local truant officers and attempts to both avoid her alcoholic father's rages and gain his affections, life is very touch and go for Kya. She relies on the knowledge handed down to her family through generations of marsh living, as well as what she can glean on her own and with the help of the few people she allows herself to trust.
Using her knowledge and love of the marsh, Kya is able to make a life for herself in 1950's coastal North Carolina in a way that would be impossible today. Though a work of fiction, I have no trouble imagining every word of this piece could be absolutely true. Kya is a character who, from her first lines, Owens makes us care for and root for. At heart, she is a young woman who wants nothing more than a happy life and the freedom to live on the only home-place she's ever known.
It was fascinating to see Kya learned about life and love by observing the marshlands around her. Following her interactions with the few people she lets get close to her, I could feel the tension in her spirit as she is convinced to leave her comfort zone in order to share her collected knowledge with the outside world. Not only an ode to a lifestyle that has all but disappeared, I feel Owens was attempting to make a statement vouching for the intelligence that can be gained by a life lived outside of the standard education system with Kya. A lonely girl who managed to avoid school, she is a self-taught artist who, through her struggles, learns everything she needs to know to provide herself with a certain kind of life on the marsh.
The description and scenery laid out in this novel resonate with me as well. Owens brings to life the marshlands, the small shack, the beaches Kya frequents, and the struggles she goes through at times to even put food on her table. In addition to her use of description, Owens uses the vernacular in a respectful and insightful way that avoids being too cliche or unnecessary.
If you are interested in regional fiction, lovable characters, amazing prose, fantastic attention to detail, and a story that you will never want to end I highly recommend this novel. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, there is a reason it has ridden the bestseller list for so long. Treat yourself. Read this novel and, if the opportunity ever arises, venture beyond the confines of modern society. Reach out into nature and see if you can find the place where the crawdads sing.