Book Review :: Where the Crawdads Sing

Review of Where the Crawdads Sing

This review of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is for the small percentage of readers who didn’t like it – to let you know you’re not alone.

The longer I have my book blog, the more reticent I am to write negative reviews. For one, I have not done the very hard work of finishing a novel, much less have had one published. Second, in my deep appreciation of the written word, I’ll extend grace to most anything that encourages reading. Often it is books with the popularity of Where the Crawdads Sing that encourages someone to return to reading – and that’s a good thing.

That said, this is one of those times when I feel the world of opinions needs some balance. I did not like Where the Crawdads Sing.

I have written before about the disservice some editors do for their authors by not fixing blatant errors and problems, and Where the Crawdads Sing falls into that category as well. Here are just a few examples that irked me:

  • When Kya packs a picnic for Tate early in their relationship, among other things, she packs  French bread & cheese, saying it is her favorite picnic snack. Really? A girl who has lived off of grits and mussels – just when and where did she experience French bread? I can promise you Jumpin’ wasn’t selling French bread in the tackle shop. A loaf of Sunbeam – for sure – but no French bread.
  • When Kya gives Chase the necklace with the unique shell, she says: “There are many of that genius here, but this particular species usually inhabits regions south of this latitude because these waters are too cool for them.” This is simply not how Kya talks. And before you offer, “Well, she’s been reading text books…” remember that Owens is depicting her as someone who really knows her stuff, and we all know that the better you know a subject, the better your ability to talk about it in your own language.
  • When Jodie shows up, Kya tells the story of how he got the scar on his cheek. A good editor would have placed that event earlier in the narrative when Kya talks about her abusive father and then let the scar itself identify the stranger.

It is examples like this last one that are most pervasive in the novel, and are the most egregious. Owens lacks the art of subtle revelation in her narrative. She repeats things over and over as if she needs to remind the reader about the clues she’s leaving.

Similarly, Owens’ nature prose is too heavy handed. I love a beautiful description with a metaphor as much as the next reader, but I also get the parallels between wildlife and human nature – you don’t have to beat me over the head with them. Again, subtly can go a long way. By the way, this is the author’s fault, not that of the editor.

And, I don’t know if that’s she been gone from South Georgia for too long, but I thought her Southern dialect was horrible. As one fellow (Southern) reader said, “It’s insulting.” Well said.

***SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read Where the Crawdads Sing and plan to, you may not want to read any further. ****

The death of Tate’s father had no purpose. Why introduce a character just to kill him off in the last two chapters? If his relationship with Tate was necessary, make it a part of the story when Tate and Kya were first together. It seems this was included solely for the moment when the sheriff comes for him – to make the reader wonder if Tate is being arrested for the murder. When that doesn’t happen but you have what is supposed to be a poignant graveside scene, it falls flat. About the only thing that it does do is cheapen the death of Jumpin’, which really should be tender.

While I didn’t hate the fact that it turns out Kya did murder Chase, I do think the way it was revealed was low-rate and demonstrated the author’s inability to (again) artfully craft a narrative where this bears the weight that it should. As it is, Tate and Kya live happily ever after – her knowing she killed Chase – and Tate finds out after she dies? What’s the point? This feels like an elementary solution.

This review is long enough without me getting into all that is wrong with “Amanda Hamilton” but suffice it to say, I wanted to scream every time one of her poems was dropped into the story and finding out that Kya was the poet didn’t make it any better. (A better “ah-ha” for Amanda Hamilton would have been that she was Kya’s mother – and Kya to have discovered she had this link and shared language with a woman she longed to know.)

With all of this said, here is my one concession: I hold books that have gotten the type of praise that Where the Crawdads Sing to a higher standard than other books. If I had read this without seeing it on every summer reading list I would have likely given it a middle-of-the-road three star rating and moved on. But when I see people falling all over themselves over what is at best fair-to-middling writing, I have to speak up. Where the Crawdads Sing isn’t worthy of the hype.

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84 Replies to “Book Review :: Where the Crawdads Sing

  1. Oh how refreshing! I honestly do not understand all the praise this book is receiving. “I can’t even!” as my young nieces would say 🙂

  2. I almost wondered if Chase’s betrayal had caused Kya’s personality to splinter and it was the morose Amanda Hamilton, rather than the gentle “Marsh Girl” that killed Him. Surprise ending? Anyone who didn’t catch on after the firefly/praying mantis passages was just not paying attention. It was a proper beach read but not the next Mockingbird as one breathless reviewer gushed.

    1. Actually, I was thinking Mockingbird… but the much touted and equally disappointing second effort by Harper Lee (or “Harper Lee,” depending upon your opinion), Go Set a Watchman. Everything about Crawdads made me nauseous. I hope this is not where American literature is going, because it would be a sad thing.

  3. As I browsed through reviews of this novel, I wondered if I would ever find anyone who found it as flawed as I did – thank you for articulating many of the elements that I found jarring and too much in the style of Nicholas Sparks. A better title would have been “Cinderella of the Swamp” with all the magical transformation of that fairy tale as well the clichéd romances, and the heavy-handed biology lessons. Now I have to spend 2 hours with my book group who I am sure will gush enthusiastically. As others have commented, this is a good beach read but certainly does not deserve the glowing reviews and comparisons to great novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird. Literary fiction – it is not! Thank you so much for making feel that I am not alone in disliking this book.

  4. Thank you for this. The book finally came up in my library queue after half my friends have gushed about it all year long. Now I’ve read it – and didn’t like it at all. I’m just hoping they don’t ask, because I hate having to tell someone who loves something that I thought it was bad.

    1. We had a very engaging discussion at our book club with some who loved and some who did not. It actually made for a pretty interesting discussion.

      1. I thought that flawed it was still a great read. Far from perfect and not a great book. Many flaws but many great and beautiful parts. You get the feeling the author pulled out all the stops and probably doesnt have anything left in the tank we will see. Still i love it.

  5. Refreshing and a relief to read this review. While I did not hate it, I agree that it is overrated and flawed. I cannot get over the red herringstl and tied up loose ends in the last chapters. Kya is Amanda Hamilton? — wait, how does the real Amanda Hamilton feel about that?

  6. YES! The dialect and dialogue were both awful. Kya is a Boo Radley who is socially savvy whenever the author finds it convenient. Half-baked love story. At one point Jumpin threatens to get a posse after the most high-profile white guy in the white town – all to protect this white girl. REALLY? As if he doesn’t know what would happen to his own family and town and life if he does so? Bad.

  7. The author of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING should stick to non-fiction biology because her eagerness to describe (what seemed to be) every molecule of the marsh became as boring as an 8th grade microbiology textbook. In addition- her incessant descriptive details came off more like indulgent observations as opposed to moving the story along.

    Speaking of having a story – there was such a low threshold to reach in the 1st part of the book that Kya and Tate’s 1st kiss – not an earth shattering event, mind you – at least made me put my coffee cup down as it jolted me awake.

    I also found the conversation of ALL the characters so cliche. “Jumpin” sounded like a character in a Shirley Temple movie – not a real, complicated man. Both Tate and Chase were cardboard Good and Bad Boys.

    Kya, however, was the most problematic. Goddess of the Marsh – I could see her on the cover of a cheap steamy romance novel. But then she also had this Howard the Hermit Hughes side. Don’t get me started on the Published Author career turn. The main problem with Kya is that the writer didn’t make her real (irregardless of plot turns). Kya was the author’s heroine- for sure. Unfortunately, the author saw her through rose-colored glasses because….in my opinion…Kya came off as a (albeit muddy) Disney Princess.

    I did enjoy Sunday Justice the Cat, however.

  8. Thank you. I also had a big quibble with the geography. They keep running off to Ashville, which would have been a 8-12 hour drive from the coast in the 50’s. Baltimore, Maryland would have been more accessible! I also find it hard to believe that a truant officer would never follow up or a social worker never go looking for a child they knew was alone out there. Sure, she was looked at as swamp trash, but some people did feel a responsibility to do their job and see that kids were educated and cared for (at least the white ones). And what about hurricanes?

    1. I’I’m glad someone pointed out the Asheville nonsense. Too, crawdads live in fresh water, not salt or even brackish. So, in addition to the character of Kya being utterly implausible and the dialogue being all wrong, the author is writing about an area, a culture, an ecology with which she is unfamiliar. Why? She spent very interesting time in Africa and in the Pacific Northwest. Why not write about something she knows?

      1. THIS. SO THIS. I’ve lived in the southeast for 5 years now and hardly know anything about the area but even I knew this. Thank you!!!!

  9. Thanks for this review. It ‘s helped me articulate lots if things I disliked about the book. (The comments helped too) i feel better about attending my Sept book club where some members have already heaped the praise

  10. I was thinking about dropping out of a book club and decided to do it now so I won’t have to face those who loved Where the Crawdads Sing. The plot seemed like a poorly done young adult romance. I couldn’t quibble about the setting as I live on the California coast. However, feeding seagulls? Here we would be attacked and have to fight them off. Not a nice picture.

  11. A close recommended this book and I had to tell her that I loved it, then my book group picked it and I reread it or rather I listened to the audio version. The parts that I couldn’t reconcile were that no one human came to check on her; her mother, her mother’s family, the school teachers, her siblings, her father, Tate’s father, anyone who saw her at Jumpin’s. How do you go from illiterate to college speaker when you seldom speak to anyone? I found the reference to the mosquito scooping out the previous mosquito’s sperm ridiculous and unbelievable. And finally, when Kya’s attorney describes how the timing of going to kill Chase while needing a boat and a bus ride back and forth more than enough the exonerate her, and I began to wonder how Kya could tell time? did she own a watch? How would she know to disguise herself? How did she spend her day besides making salted fish?
    Thanks for letting me vent as well.

  12. thank you for writing this! I felt duped by it….I was engaged initially by the nature narrative and the concept of nature as “mother”….but the romance and plot really fell flat for me. All of the things you’ve said and your commenters have said rang true for me. And I’m feeling kinda angry that so many think this is well written literature!

  13. Thanks for writing an honest review. No 6 year old calls a marsh an estuary. Nor would a 6 year old be able to start a boat engine and then run it that well.
    I agree that someone would have taken food out to her house and tried to help. Going to Asheville from the NC coast to do business was absurd. Where was the coastal dialect of the 1950’s? I could go on and on.

  14. OK guys, all very interesting, and in my opinion accurate. But what?…..Walter? What is IRREGARDLESS, aargh, that non-word is a pet peeve, not in the dictionary, and an unfortunate double negative becoming horribly common. Oh dear, my rant for the day! A great blog by the way 🙂

    1. “Irregardless” is a pet peeve of mine, too. If she used it, I totally missed it! I guess everything else was already too distracting.

  15. The thing I found truly unbelievable was that she was able to take the bus all the way from Greenville back to the fire tower, do all the things she had to do to avoid detection and cover up the crime, and then BACK to Greenville in plenty of time to meet again with her publisher. Did I miss something or did the cops just neglect to subpoena the bus records that would’ve clearly showed something was aloof? The D.A. talked about people in disguise on the bus, but really didn’t give any buildup. But this isn’t John Grisham. I found the dialect also suspect: she goes from this hick accent to–viola!–speaking in Ph.D. language. Maybe the author assumed that readers felt that given her self- and Tate-education, that she would progress to that kind of banter. Still, I empathized with Kya, living the gawd-awful life she led in abject loneliness, being shunned by the townsfolk. Now, I’m going back to my “swamp.”

    1. My thoughts exactly! How many folks could there be on that bus at that hour? Why not track them down to identify/eliminate the nervous and possibly disguised passenger!? On point as always L&L and thank you for an honest review of a book clearly written to appeal to Hollywood. Maybe a good screenwriter will make her mother the poet and clean up other loose ends to create more suspense. I predicted the ending when I saw the name of the final chapter.

  16. I’m so happy to “meet” all of you! I’ve been wondering if I had missed something in this book, all friends and family have been praising it and I thought it was mediocre at best. What a relief!

  17. Hello, I am half way through the book and struggling to finish. I’m glad to know that there are so many others who see it as I do. I was beginning to think perhaps I’ve turned “uppity” from reading too many literary novels and could no longer enjoy a well-written mainstream novel. I don’t think that’s the case, however, This book is beyond redemption in my view.
    I won’t rehash all that’s been said, but would like to add a bit about characterization. One of the biggest problems with this book, for me, is that the characters don’t ring true. For example, Kya has fond memories of her mother’s nurturing and gentle acts of kindness. Clearly, she is a woman of sensitivity who cares for her children, yet she leaves a man who abuses her when she knows full well that he also abuses the children. Really? And then, not only does she leave (all dressed up and ready to find a new life for herself, to hell with the kids), she never checks back on them? Never sends anyone after them? The character of Kya’s father is also problematic. Here’s a guy who turns into a jerk when he drinks. But why make the distinction if he’s supposedly a total jerk when he is sober too? The thing is, the author lets us see the father have some moments of bonding with his daughter; he teaches her to fish, gives her money, takes her out to eat. He even calls her “Hon.” And yet, after having established a connection, he can leave without a backward glance. He doesn’t seem to care if she’s easy prey or starves to death. Most people wouldn’t treat a pet that way, much less a kid. That is, unless the person is some kind of monster. And that’s the point; the father isn’t really so much a monster as a rage-aholic and an alcoholic. Or IS he a monster? The author can’t seem to make up her mind. Then we have the character of Tate. Wow. Teenage perfection in the form of a young male. A young male who so completely understands how lonely and rejected Kya feels after all the abandonment she has been subjected to, nonetheless turns around and does the same thing. He totally abandons her after carefully taming her wild spirit and spending months getting her to completely trust him. And all without so much as an explanation or a note…
    Other characters operate in the story as stock characters without dimension,
    the preoccupied social worker, the black store owner with a heart of gold and his heart-of-gold wife. And by the way, is there really no one in the entire town with a modicum of sympathy for a dirty, skinny child with no social skills and no parent in
    sight? Then there’s Kya herself. As some of you have noted, her natural beauty and allure is an imaginative stretch. I could, for the sake of the story, get past that. But her remarkable ability to unpack dense biology texts after a few reading lessons and no formal education is rather ludicrous. I know some have countered the criticism of this novel by saying it should be read as an allegory. My understanding of allegory is that you are typically dealing with a simple story that symbolizes a much more complicated issue. The ideas of “connection-to-nature vs. disconnection,” “rural folk vs. town folk,” “respect for nature vs. exploitation” all operate as themes, not allegory.

    1. So true. Also it was a stretch that Tate taught her to read using the book Sand County Almanac (a brilliant book which I happen to have read.)That is a real book by a naturalist with sophisticated writing. It could never be used to teach a totally illiterate person. You’d be more likely to start with easy children’s books. Yet she learned to read it easily.

  18. Maybe you all should try the audio book Reads like a movie and most of your Criticisms are overshadowed by hearing Only point I make is there really is a poet named Amanda Hamilton

    1. I think this proves my point. If you have to listen to it by audio book to not be annoyed by the errors, it isn’t quality fiction.

      1. Hi, I just finished this book. 10 pages before the ending I noted to myself, Kya did it, I didn’t want that to be the case, but it makes sense. I kept thinking about that shell necklace.

        It was quite a sad book. That’s okay but it seemed like 2 authors. The courtroom to the end was very different than the beginning. Maybe, I thought, because Kya changed, was shut down after the murder.

        Anyway, it was fast forwarding , vacant and though Kya’s killing Chase was probable and predictable to me , her sneaking back on the bus is not realistic. I wish we had her inside story, like the entire book before the murder. I felt the author was just plowing through to the ending to answer The Who did it?

        Thanks for letting me share my honest thoughts.

        1. Interesting your point about two authors. I agree the courtroom scene was stronger than other parts – like maybe that section was more closely edited or workshopped than other sections.

  19. I hate being critical too. But in this case, I think you missed some genuine literary devices and got stuck in the swamp with details. In University, I studied Annie Dillard ‘s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek . I studied it in the context of science communication. In Dillard’s case, as the title suggests, this is religion versus science or the combination of them. In this way, this book is similar. Her words on shells, or other treasures, are not her own but those of the biology textbooks she’s been reading. That device shows us how disassociated she is from human feelings and attitudes – all her emotions are bound in her scientific look at human interactions. That is really where the book has strength for me. I don’t worry so much about the french bread or butter. I don’t remember her saying it was her favourite. But it’s just not important because literature doesn’t have to be a science 🙂 I see your points but the book speaks to Lady of Shallott, the pilgrims, and how some struggle to bond their spiritual side with the scientific.

  20. I had an issue with Tate talking about studying DNA and the double helix in 1960 in a small town in the south. My small town in the south did not cover this until later. (I have more details on this but my sister and I discussed this about 15 years ago when my son had to make a DNA double helix as a class project and we talked why this wasn’t covered in school when we attended.) It’s these kind of disconnects (like parroting scientific details rather than assimilating in her own voice to explain to Chase) that caused me to jump out of the story and I had to convince myself to jump back in. I would recommend you read Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. She did extensive writings on growing up in rural swamp areas in Florida and you are pulled into her stories. She won a Pulitzer Prize for The Yearling, written in 1939.

  21. Thanks for an interesting discussion. I agree that the novel is filled with all these outrageous flaws that should have consigned this book to the remainder bin after a couple of months. But that’s culture and taste in America. The movie will make a fortune, I’m sure. What is more amazing to me is that I have not read one comment in the numerous reviews I’ve read that even mentions the fact (much less analyzes it) that the novelist has created a very “sympathetic” female heroine who is nearly destroyed by violence, racism, cultural bias, ignorance, abandonment, etc., but who pulls herself out of the mud to become this wonderful artist/scientist, yet, who, in the last couple of pages, turns out to be a gigantic fraud. For god’s sake: SHE’S A MURDERER! Yes, she’s portrayed (endlessly) as a victim, but the fact is that being a lonely “wronged woman,” including an attempted rape, does not justify MURDER. This is not just a “twist” at the end! It blows up the main character! Thus the values extolled by the author throughout the book (love of nature, etc., etc.) are dwarfed by the overriding fact of her crime and her silence, including hiding her true character from the husband she supposedly loves. Even a decent author coming out of college with a creative writing major would have seen this massive problem—and would have either explored the possibilities of dealing with such human complexities, or perhaps just dumped this ridiculous novel and started a new one.

    1. Agree. There’s a way that a more skilled writer could have crafted a scene of self-defense but in this case, it would have been premeditated & she lured him there for the purpose of killing him. She’s mixing her genres for sure to have the noble heroine turn into the guilty party.

    2. Gosh, I have combed through the reviews here and on another site and you are the only one mentioning what troubled me so much about the book. If Kya murdered Chace, then I have no respect for her. If she never told Tate about it, I have even less. So what was the point of that whole story which was tugging at my sympathies to respect and value her? So I feel like the author tricked my sympathies and jerked me around which means I cannot really respect the author for that either. Secondly, do people really have so little moral center that they’re okay with Kya murdering Chace just for being an every-day-super-jerk that so many guys are? I’m not. Towards the end, Kaya says plaintively, “I never asked anybody for anything.” Well, killing somebody is asking them for the ultimate: their life. Now, no one seems to be mentioning this but there is huge chance that Kya is not the murderer (if there even was one), but somehow came upon that necklace anyway. 1) If Chace wore it “every day”, in reality people stop noticing whether someone is actually wearing a small item or not, so they could be wrong about him wearing it that day. 2) the murderer, if there was one, had about 40 years to give this to Kya (she died at 64 and Chace died when she was 24. She could have been come by it, and put it under the floorboards as recently as the last time the wood supply was low.) Insect analogies aside, there’s actually no proof provided by the author that Kya murdered him, and lots of reasons to think she didn’t. Most of the evidence points to there not having been a murder. How about a suicide? And about Amanda, I thought this would turn out to be her sister, who was named Amanda (according to the Bible records) and called Many for short. I think that would have been better than having the poet be the mother, which would be a little too “neatly wrapped up” for my tastes. Truly, the author should have mentioned suicide as a possibility somewhere along the lines, if for no other reason than to confound the reader. The guy was a jerk, and jerks have no self-esteem.

      1. Never mind, Dan B, it turns out you were the first of many which appeared “below” (later in time) than yours, and I hadn’t seen them before I replied to you, Maybe yours helped people feel they had permission to say murder is not okay when the “motive” is having been jilted or even attempted rape. Though I understand the ourtrage that would emerge from an attempted rape, no one is above the law and self-defense 2 months later could not be claimed.

  22. So grateful for this thread. Tossed and turned all night after finishing the book. Among all the ridiculous trite romance novel qualities the fact that she ends up a murderer and a liar truly destroyed it for me.

    1. I am so glad to hear that others found this much overrated book to be totally implausible, and not particularly well written.

  23. I just finished reading this book after slipping and falling, hurting several body parts which put me in quite a bit of pain. My sister gave me the book days before as a gift. I had not read a novel
    in quite some time and needed to rest, so into my bed I went with this book to take my mind off of my own painful place.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the many metaphors and similes while figuring out the ending long before I was told by the author. Having been raped, I can understand the fear of Kya. As a writer, editor and proofreader, I also understand the role of a good editor. Many of the flaws you have related I also found, but as a person in pain looking for a story to take my mind off that, it served its purpose. Any reader would know that loose end shell necklace was bound to turn up among Kya’s hidden treasures.
    I appreciate your comments as I also enjoyed my mind being taken off into the marshes with the birds, sand and wildlife. I look out on the Rappahannock River where birds of many kinds swoop and dance, perch and search for prey.
    Bald eagles, and porpoises all play here from time to time. Raccoons and deer, wild turkeys and skunks, all meander by at their own pace.
    Life goes on. Love is always somewhere to be shared and celebrated in the heart. Murder, however, is not a part of love.

  24. THANKS GUYS..ditto your thoughts..googled thoughts on this book because I needed some feedback…The fact that she murdered Chase..ruined her whole character..and made me wonder why I wasted so much of my time reading this book ..oh it was a gift ..and i would be asked my thoughts..

  25. Thanks for the courageous review.

    It’s a plotless story, with an evil view of human nature, mindless and overwrought descriptions of nature, peppered with non-poetry. Perhaps worst of all, the novel lacks a key element of good mysteries: human motivation.

    Agatha Christie is turning in her grave.

    1. I think you hit on something with your comment. She hasn’t figured out what genre she’s writing & thus fails at them all.

      1. And notice the horrible (and completely nondramatic) message: Don’t blame Kya (or — wink, wink — the author) for murder. Either nurture made her do it (abusive and neglectful parents) or nature did (the praying mantis). There’s no free will, no choice, no personal values animating the character.

        Compare that to the gripping and unsparing portrayal of a murderer in Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.”

  26. I’m always suspicious of books on The NY Times’ bestseller list as 70% of the people in any given society have average IQs. That being said, all the previous comments ring true. I decided to search for critiques of this book because, though I found many passages to be lyrical, the whole story just didn’t gel.

    As a retired reading teacher with a master’s degree in special education, I’ve spent years working with children in the area of literacy. In order to learn to read, learning to decode the abstract symbols of the alphabet takes about 500 repetitions per letter. Our brains have only been reading for about 5,000 years ~ which isn’t a long time in human development. Thus, Kya’s astonishing metamorphoses after 14 years of illiteracy from ignorance of the printed word to scientific genius was impossible to believe. The author might have been able to rectify this glaring error had she simply added a paragraph or two discussing the passage of time ~ years, for example ~ during which we could see Kya’s struggle toward literacy. But that was not done and, so, the reader is jolted out of the “vivid and continuous dream” (John Gardner) that great fiction achieves. We should never be removed from our reverie in fiction and slapped across the face with slips in technique. But, in “Crawdads,” we *are* and that’s just too bad.

    In kindergarten, if we can get our students to master 52 letters and sounds within 9 months of school before we send them to 1st grade, as teachers we’re delighted. But reading is *not* just about decoding sounds! Basic sight words, of which I teach about 1,000 by the end of 3rd grade, must simply be memorized. They *cannot* be sounded out! Words like “the, do, is, from, enough” ~ to name just five ~ are examples of my point. Sight words make up approximately 80% of all the words we read ~ even in advanced texts. As we progress into print at higher levels, the percentage of sight words drops a bit but, still, they remain the *glue* in text. Tate may have taught Kya basic sound/symbol correspondence but her meteoric rise into Greek roots and scientific jargon is simply unbelievable ~ as many of you have mentioned. Kya has no mentor with whom she can go over the complexities of our English tongue; her accomplishments, then, seem contrived and unrealistic.

    As an aside, I’m wondering, now that I’ve read this book, how in the *world* Kya would have been able to acquire all the props necessary for her disguise as she made her mad dash on the bus? Where would she have purchased the wigs and costumes needed to hide her identity? That would have taken some elaborate planning. Surely a shopkeeper would have remembered her buying those things locally. There are just too many loose ends in this book!

    Someone recommended this book to me and though I’d clicked over it as I pondered titles during the last year or so, I agreed to read it to please a friend. As an avid reader, I can readily absorb a weak book and be none the worse for wear. Many of you have made excellent points regarding flaws ~ and, on the whole, I agree with your assessments. Despite those flaws, though, I did love learning about the details of life in marshes and swamps, areas foreign to me, and I reveled in the solitude of those places. I’m a thoughtful, quiet person and could not live without nature in my life. I’m always thrilled to add another bit of knowledge about our natural world to my body of understanding. “Crawdads” appealed to me in that way. I’ll let Hollywood sort out the rest since, surely, as many have stated, this is a Hollywood novel that will make millions of dollars at the box office. It is not, however, literary fiction. Remember, the majority of readers who catapult books to the top of The NY Times’ bestseller list don’t seek excellence but, rather, escape. I like my fiction to offer more than that. I like it to move me. This book falls short. While “Crawdads” can offer us a way to spend a few spare hours, it’s most definitely not a book that will rock our literary world.

  27. When I’m not enamored with wildly-popular books, I always wonder what I’m missing, why I’m not following the crowd. As a writer and editor, I respect the craft of writing, but have a rule: if my my editor self kicks in while reading, something’s wrong with the writing, And from the prologue on, “Crawdads” — while easy enough to buzz through — opened up numerous questions and problems that many readers point out here on this blog.

    I can suspend disbelief enough to acknowledge that maybe Marsh Girl had innate, almost primitive, survival techniques; that Tate had a higher-than-average intelligence and relatability to teach Kya to read and that she would have had no other way to spend her time but to dedicate herself to learning.
    But:
    -With her extreme malnutrition, she would have been sick. A lot. She also would have had other problems with her hair, nails, teeth – she simply couldn’t be as beautiful as the author claimed.
    -She wouldn’t have had any authentic social or conversational skills – simply saying she’s shy doesn’t even begin to cover how inept her interactions with Chase would be, no matter how much Tate talked to her before he left. So Chase was obviously a convenient plot device for the murder and a weak attempt at forcing class issues. I believe this was also the case with the movie “Nell.”
    -Using the overwrought “Magical Negro” trope of Jumpin’ and Mabel, combined with the dialect, was incredibly racist. I lived in the South and Deep South, including Coastal Carolina. Most people out in the Outer Banks have a unique Southern-New England dialect, and it’s hard to replicate verbally, much less with the written word. Further, everyone would speak that way because of the isolation of location, not just Jumpin’ and Mable. Most writing professors tell students not to use dialectical language unless you’re certain you’ll get it right.
    -Amanda Hamilton’s poetry inserts were simply unnecessary, so this part of the ending was forced for no reason.
    -The prologue, if there has to be one, (I hate prologues!) should always tell the truth. I think this is what disappointed me the most: the blatant sellout of the main character. If she believed her survival depended on killing someone, Kya the Marsh Girl wouldn’t have wrangled bus schedules, disguised herself, raced against time, and lured Chase to the fire tower. The prologue proclaimed the marsh is life, while the swamp is death. Kya the Marsh Girl would have lured Chase to the edge of the swamp, made love to him, and while he napped briefly, smacked him with a branch to knock him unconscious. Before she ripped off the necklace, she would drag him into the murky waters and let nature take its course. Maybe Chase’s boat was found adrift near her shack, and Kya is called into questioning, but the mystery of his disappearance—never solved—adds to the Legend of the Marsh Girl. Perhaps years later, Tate would find a worn shell necklace strung on rawhide in a drawer after her death, and wonder what it was. He wouldn’t know…
    …but the reader would. And that’s the point.

      1. Great site! And thanks. I’m sure every reader imagines a story going a different way. But if I were Owens’ editor, I would have reminded her of the integrity of her character. She still probably would have gone her own way, as she should, but at least there would have been a discussion. 🙂

    1. I agree with so many of your points. This novel romanticises neglect and loneliness, both of which I’ve experienced and neither of which are remotely romantic. Neglect makes it extremely hard to form social relationships, it doesn’t just make you shy and neglected kids are usually bad at taking care of their physical appearance.

  28. I’m another reader who missed the promised “gorgeous, lyrical prose.” At heart, this is a manipulative story, with the puppeteer’s moving strings visible. The phoniness is, more than anything, caused by the distance from the main character (for, after all, if we were close to her, the ending “surprises” would have had to be disclosed at the time). Instead, the writer attempts to make us feel close to Kya by having her speak aloud to herself about her loneliness, etc., and having her recite bad poetry (without even acknowledging to herself its origin!). Grrrrrrrr.

  29. I waited and waited for this to become available at my local library, and when it did I eagerly started to read I knew nothing of reviews, which is the way I like to dive into a new book and decide how it moves me. While I love descriptive phrases and metaphors, this was way over the top and not in a good way. So far at page 58, I WILL finish but am finding so many things cringeworthy that I am afraid that’s what I will remember rather than the characters or story line. Not a writer. Not a wannabee writer. Just a reader who loves good books that worm their way into my brain and get me to think. Thank you for writing this commentary…it fits my reactions so far even though I am only 58 pages in.

  30. I can have a willing suspension of disbelief that her isolation, her feeing under threat, and her living again in fear in her own home of a violent man might drive Kya to kill the tormentor—under certain circumstances. But I cannot buy for a second that Kyra is racing around catching buses in disguises, motor boating up the coast, climbing fire towers, luring/manipulating/murdering a man—all between being dropped off at 10 pm after a lovely dinner and first meeting with her editor and being picked up at 7:30 am for breakfast with said editor. Unbelievable. Completely out of character. Don’t get me started on the going to Asheville from the coast to buy supplies or a bike.

  31. I am having trouble with the red wool fibers found on Chase’s body. Why didn’t Tate suspect her guilt after that evidence was presented?

  32. I’ve just read this book in Catalan, my mother tongue.
    I agree with the most repeated issues here written.
    I’ve found several translation mistakes, attributable to editor in my language.
    Despite it’s a book that is agreeable in the most of the chapters, lacks of coherence.
    Writing about mother cells in 1961 when first hypothesis was proposed by Canadian scientist in early 1960 is, at least, a temerity.
    Also putting in Kya’s voice Einstein Theories is not realistic.
    I’m not able to talk about idioms or words used by people in New Carolina in those years, either the bus availability.
    In the other hand; in my opinion, too much paragraphs are self-dedicated to the writer.
    TX

  33. I have scanned comments and replies, and like many of the contributors, I have written and edited fiction, so we read differently than many readers. I was put off by the use of dialect, and then found it inconsistent. I would think an editor would have cleaned that up. This stuck out for me (and probably many Tarheels): there has never been a Raleigh Herald newspaper in Raleigh, NC. There is a Raleigh, West Virginia, that has or had a Raleigh Herald. It’s a small point, but puts the author’s research in other areas in question.

  34. If I could get past the absurd storyline, the poor use of dialect, and the uneven (at best) writing then I would give this more than 2.5 out of 5 stars. I would have given it fewer stars but there were times when it was so bad it was good. Listening to the audiobook I found myself laughing out loud. When the author described this marsh child who had lived on her own exposed daily to the sun the bugs the mud without adequate food, clothing, medical care and grooming opportunities as nothing short of the most beautiful woman to ever live I nearly spit my coffee across the room. Then there was the passage where the teen boy mansplained to the most observant “nature genius” on earth that she was getting her period for the first time. And I can’t stop chortling thinking of the numerous “almost sex” scenes. The trial never quite made sense to me either. How could they charge her with first degree murder when they themselves admitted that it could have been an accident.

    I must stop because there are so many things in this book that either make no sense or are completely ridiculous. I could go on and on. That said I can see why Reese Witherspoon claims to love it. It will make a decent movie and if she can encourage enough people to read the book and be invested in the story it will be a guaranteed money maker.

    1. “. . . the most observant ‘nature genius’ on earth . . .”

      Exactly! She’s supposed to be the “noble savage” (a tired, discredited story) who’s capable of miracles, and who’s justified in doing anything (e.g., murder) because society’s corrupt and has corrupted her. (I.e., it’s a thinly veiled auto-biography.)

  35. THANK YOU so much for this review. After reading the book, I kept thinking, “Reese, stick to acting”, I’ve seen on a few talk shows that she reads constantly, and since she loved this book and added it to her book club, I wonder what books she’s reading.
    By the end, I was groaning every time I saw another poem by ol’ Amanda on the page.
    The whole book was implausible, from a 6 year old surviving on her own, to her beauty and intelligence. I used to work with a woman who taught herself Organic Chemistry. She was very intelligent but couldn’t pronounce anything correctly. I think Kya would have the same problem. I also couldn’t imagine how Kya “lured” Chase to the fire tower, although maybe that was covered as I skimmed the last few chapter.
    I wonder if she also killed her father.

  36. As a male child of the 60s, I couldn’t help but wonder why Chase and his pals – football players without college deferments – did not end up drafted and in Vietnam, which, trust me, was the overriding concern for 18-year old males in the 60s. Amanda’s “poetry” was awful. And the whole rigmarole about assembling multiple disguises by this character was ridiculous. I did appreciate the “close to nature” vibe, but this was not a book to move one’s heart.

  37. It was heartening to see that other people have a problem with this murder when they believe Kya did it….. On the other hand, the number of people who assume Kya did do it is bewildering to me. “Oh, because she had the necklace. That’s proves it.” It proves nothing. She could have found it or it could have been given to her in the 40 years between Chace’s death and her own. After spending all that “time” as a reader with Kya, to me the more likely thing is that she did not murder him, which explains her blank traumatized mind that didn’t get shared with us during the trial, and it explains why she never “told Tate” about it. There was nothing to tell. Why is suicide never mentioned in the book or in the reviews? Is the myth that “rich people are happy” so entrenched? Maybe Tate was not in fact wearing the necklace that night, or maybe he tore it off and threw it in the swamp before he stepped into the grate hole. There is no evidence of a murder, anywhere. Only numerous theories crafted to support the hypothesis that Kya “must have” done it. To me, that means this is a book about how prejudice works in a community (and everywhere) and it’s especially effective and educational because most people think white people aren’t discriminated against. The book should be judged on how well it explores this problem, and I would say it does that superbly. It’s quite possible that people simply don’t mind bad accents and Asheville’s location because this book has a vision, even a mission, to educate people about the insidiousness and stupidity of prejudice. If white people see that they too can be victims, maybe they’ll wake up more to what’s going on far worse for people of color. But if you rush into the conclusion that Kya killed Chace (and the author might be extremely upset that people are doing that) then you won’t see that visionary message at all, but quite the opposite: that knee-jerk prejudice is justified.

    1. “. . . she did not murder him . . .”

      To arrive at that conclusion, one has to ignore tons of evidence that’s actually in the book, e.g., the confession poem, the insect-mating metaphor, the fact that she hid the necklace for all those years. (Your “maybes” are pure fantasy.)

      “. . . this is a book about how prejudice works . . .”

      And to arrive at that conclusion, one has to make up tons of evidence that’s not in the book.

      One evaluates a novel based on what the writer included in the story — not on what a reader wishes for. The story is a paean to the (hideous) concept of the “noble savage.”

  38. Ditto to so many of the comments here. I just thought it was me in many cases, since I am not much of a recent fiction reader and am a biology teacher who also lived in eastern North Carolina for 20+ years. I will not be repetitive here about the travel to Asheville, Raleigh paper name, and over the top selection of the praying mantis eating her mate vignette, but do want to add that I never met anyone from eastern NC who called a knit cap a ski cap – always, always, always they say toboggan.

  39. The author lost all credibility for me when Kya’s mother’s old, well-worn volume of poetry contains poems by Galway Kinnell and James Wright—
    Having once lived in Greenville, I was also flummoxed by everyone traveling to Ashville. Authors shouldn’t make mistakes like this, and good editors shouldn’t let them.

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