Where the Crawdads Sing Book Summary - Where the Crawdads Sing Book explained in key points
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Where the Crawdads Sing summary

Delia Owens

A Coming-Of-Age Murder Mystery About Love, Nature & Abandonment

4.8 (105 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a novel about a young girl named Kya, who learns to navigate life in the marshlands of North Carolina after being abandoned by her family. When a local boy is found dead, Kya becomes the prime suspect.

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    Where the Crawdads Sing
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    Part 1: Childhood

    To most, the marshlands of North Carolina’s coast simply look like a swamp – harsh and unforgiving. But if you take the time to listen, you’ll hear them humming with life. In the sand and water, there’s a bounty of maritime treasure: crayfish, crabs, mussels, oysters, shrimp, and hundreds of fish species. It’s a place, in other words, that’ll feed anyone who learns to catch their dinner. 

    Kya Clark’s parents never planned to be there for long. Both her Ma and Pa came from well-to-do, cultured Southern families. They met and courted in New Orleans and looked forward to raising a family in the farmhouse her Pa’s father had put aside for them. But that house, like so much wealth, disappeared in the lean decade of the Great Depression. 

    Then came World War II. Pa fought in France. He came back with a shattered leg, a meager monthly disability check, and memories that he drank to forget. But liquor didn’t make him forget – it made him quarrelsome. Unable to hold down a job, with three kids and a fourth on the way – Kya – the disability checks weren’t enough. So Ma and Pa pawned the family’s furniture and bought a tumble-down shack in the marshes of North Carolina.

    After Kya was born in 1946, Pa’s drinking only got worse. And so did his temper. In the beginning, his tongue had done the talking. Now, it was his hands – or belt. Ma and Kya’s older brother, Jodie, got the worst of it. It went on like that until, one sunny morning in 1952, Ma put on her best dress and shoes and walked to the nearest bus stop.

    Kya and Jodie watched from the porch. He told her not to worry – she’d be back soon enough. They both knew it was a lie: Ma had gone forever.

    The family drifted apart without Ma. Kya’s two sisters left soon after. Jodie followed them. Soon it was only six-year-old Kya who remained.

    Pa did what he always did: he cursed and hollered and disappeared for days on end. But there was an unspoken agreement between him and Kya. He gave her a little money to buy groceries in town and she did the chores. Mostly, though, she kept out of Pa’s way. Like the minnows in the lagoon, she darted from sunspots to shadows. When Pa’s boat could be heard puttering homeward, she ran into the marsh and stayed there until his rage had burned itself out. Then she went back and ate dinner with him at the kitchen table.

    The school in Barkley Cove sent case workers out to bring marsh kids to school when they turned seven. Sure enough, when Kya turned seven, they came and took her in. She’d never experienced such humiliation. Pa hadn’t bought her shoes, so she went barefoot. In her first class, the teacher asked her to spell “dog.” Red-faced, she stuttered out “G-O-D.” The laughter of her classmates rang in her ears as she ran home. She never set foot in that school again.

    Kya’s education was different from that of other kids. She observed bird mating rituals and collected their feathers and studied the shells she found on beaches. There was Pa, too. He never taught her anything by design, but it was impossible to be around him and not learn something. Pa knew the marsh like hawks know meadows. He knew how to hunt, fish, scavenge, hide, set traps, and hide his traces. When he wasn’t drinking, he sometimes took Kya out in the boat. They fished in silence until, suddenly, the questions poured out of her. Kya’s wide-eyed wonder spurred Pa on to explain everything from goose seasons and fish habits to weather patterns and riptides.

    For a moment, everything was beginning to seem okay with the world. Until one day, Pa didn’t return home. The boat, the only possession he cared for, was tied up by the shack. That meant he wasn’t coming back. He’d also gone for good.

    Kya was ten. For the first time in her life, she was truly alone. But there wasn’t time to mourn. Hunger, and the realization that she would have to provide for herself, forced her to act.

    Kya didn’t know Barkley Cove – not really. She traded a few words with the shopkeepers who sold her cornmeal and occasionally asked why her mother didn’t come in anymore. She watched Barkley kids playing on the beaches. But she kept her distance, avoiding the town and its inhabitants whenever she could. With Pa gone, that had to change.

    Barkley was a fishing town and just about everyone had a boat. Locals bought fuel from a bait and tackle shop in the lagoon, a rickety wooden hut on stilts with a long jetty for mooring. Kya knew it from fishing trips with Pa. She remembered that the shop also sold bags of glistening black mussels from the lagoon. With no other means of finding money to eat, Kya asked the owner, a man called Jumpin’, if he’d also buy mussels from her. Jumpin’ replied that he’d buy them from whoever got there first in the morning. So Kya started collecting mussels by moonlight to beat other pickers. It wasn’t much, but that mussel money became more reliable than Pa’s checks had ever been.

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    What is Where the Crawdads Sing about?

    Where the Crawdads Sing (2018) is a coming-of-age story that seamlessly blends into a murder mystery and an ode to nature. A reminder that we are forever shaped by our childhoods, it recounts the early life of a remarkable girl, Kya, and her transformation into an equally remarkable young woman.

    Where the Crawdads Sing Review

    Where the Crawdads Sing (2018) is a captivating novel that explores themes of loneliness, resilience, and the beauty of nature. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With its evocative descriptions of the marshlands and compelling characters, the book transports readers to a unique and mesmerizing setting.
    • The story weaves together mystery, romance, and coming-of-age narratives, keeping readers engrossed and invested in the lives of the characters.
    • What sets this book apart is the blend of genres – it is both a literary novel and a page-turning thriller, making it a satisfying and thought-provoking read.

    Who should read Where the Crawdads Sing?

    • Nature lovers
    • Poets and scientists
    • Anyone who loves gripping stories

    About the Author

    Delia Owens is a wildlife scientist and writer who has cowritten three internationally best-selling nonfiction books about her research in Africa. She studied zoology at the University of Georgia and holds a PhD in animal behavior from the University of California. She’s won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in journals including Nature and International Wildlife. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.

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    Where the Crawdads Sing FAQs 

    What is the main message of Where the Crawdads Sing?

    The main message of Where the Crawdads Sing is the resilience of the human spirit.

    How long does it take to read Where the Crawdads Sing?

    The reading time for Where the Crawdads Sing varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Where the Crawdads Sing a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Where the Crawdads Sing is a captivating read that's definitely worth your time. It offers a unique perspective on nature and the indomitable human spirit.

    Who is the author of Where the Crawdads Sing?

    Delia Owens is the author of Where the Crawdads Sing.

    How many chapters are in Where the Crawdads Sing?

    There are 55 chapters in Where the Crawdads Sing.

    How many pages are in Where the Crawdads Sing?

    Where the Crawdads Sing contains 368 pages.

    When was Where the Crawdads Sing published?

    Where the Crawdads Sing was published in 2018.

    What to read after Where the Crawdads Sing?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Where the Crawdads Sing, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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