Guys, I am not sure I have ever seen another book hyped like this one. Where the Crawdads Sing, the debut novel of Delia Owens, has been out for just over a year now and was at the #1 spot on the NYT bestseller list for about half of that time (it’s currently sitting at #5). It is the top-selling book of 2019 so far with over 1.5 million copies sold. It catapulted to fame when Reese Witherspoon picked it for her book club, and the movie rights have already been acquired, with Witherspoon producing.
After waiting many months for it at the library, I am happy to report that it is indeed an excellent book and I happily recommend it, though I wouldn’t say it was the best book ever, or even the best book I read this year.
Crawdads is the story of Kya, abandoned as a child by her family in the marshes of North Carolina during the 1950s, interspersed with the 1969 investigation of the murder of a popular young local man. The back-and-forth between the two plot threads is wonderful, though the payoff when they finally connect was a little underwhelming to me.
The writing in general is excellent, though at points it does feel like a debut novel. The world building is really special, with a unique setting and atmosphere. There also is a sweet young love story that I was head-over-heels for.
But what did I really love? The biology!
Kya grows up in the marshes, swamps, and estuaries of the coastal South, and comes to see Nature as her real family. She sleeps outside and lives off the land. She knows all the plants, birds, and fish of the region. She collects flowers, nests, and bird feathers which she then sketches and categorizes by species. She feeds the gulls on the beach and names them. Many people have said that the marsh is treated like a character in the book, and it’s really true.
The descriptions of all these ecological details are like catnip to a biologist like me. As someone with a background in animal behavior, I loved the way Kya approaches human relationships from the lens of the animal behavior she has observed and read about. She always looks for comparisons between animal and human social behaviors; sometimes they correspond well, like with certain male and female mating strategies, and sometimes slightly less, like with certain maternal behaviors.
Owens is a biologist herself, having already published books about her time spent studying wildlife in Africa. (She’s also been published in Nature, which is a pretty big deal for a scientist.) As a biologist and aspiring novelist, Owens is a big inspiration to me, along with other biologists such as Diana Galabdon (Outlander) and Stephanie Laurens (Regency romances) who have gone on to have phenomenal careers as fiction writers.
If you are looking for a quick, engaging read with some new perspectives but nothing too groundbreaking, I think Crawdads is for you. I enjoyed reading it, but I didn’t think it quite lived up to the excessive hype. Since many of you reading this have probably read it, what were your thoughts?