Katie Creulle ’22
The beautiful backdrop of the North Carolina marshlands sets the scene of the novel Where the Crawdads Sing by Delila Owens. The landscape is serene, filled with vocalizations of a variety of wildlife from breathtaking birds, such as Northern Cardinals and Great Blue Herons, to small sand crabs that line the beaches. The life of Catherine (Kya) Danielle Clark, however, is anything but peaceful. Abandoned by most of her family, including her mother, brother Jodie, and three other siblings by the age of six, Kya is left to diffuse her father’s abusive episodes and navigate his week-long spells of absence. Eventually her father, too, leaves, and Kya is alone.
The novel weaves together two storylines that eventually come together; one of the life of Kya and one of the murder of a local boy named Chase Andrews. While stories of children left to their own devices in the wake of abusive families are not uncommon, featured similarly in The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, the story of Kya, separates itself with clever writing and an influential storyline that incorporates themes of nature, family, love, and independence.
In the lulls of his alcoholic rage, Pa, Kya’s father, teaches her to operate the family’s small metal dinghy and fish for mussels and clams. In their adventures through the North Carolina marshes, Kya develops a deep appreciation for the nature that surrounds her home; seashells, birds, and rare bird feathers become integral in Kya’s life. After her father departs permanently, leaving Kya with no source of income, Kya motors to the dock of Jumpin’ and his wife, Mabel, who offer to buy the mussels that Kya collects.
Nature is a cornerstone of this piece, drawing on the uniqueness of the ecosystem in North Carolina and the omnipresence of wildlife in Kya’s life. As the namesake of the narrative, crawdads are intertwined with other important tropes of the narrative such as family. Kya writes, “‘What d’ya mean, where the crawdads sing? Ma used to say that.’ Kya remembered Ma always encouraging her to explore the marsh: ‘Go as far as you can — way out yonder where the crawdads sing.’” The development of nature as a true character of the novel impresses upon the reader how intertwined the environment is in the life of Kya.
As Kya grows older, she develops a rich understanding of what it means to love another. Due to the contrast with her isolation, the importance of relationships in this novel is illuminated. One central character in the narrative is Tate Walker, a friend of Jodie’s and eventual love interest of Kya. The two spend months building their relationship, which ends up being short-lived as Tate goes off to college followed by graduate school. Without spoiling too much of the ending, the two have long and connected lives that end in happiness for both of them. In Tate’s absence, Kya becomes complicatedly involved with Chase Andrews. Their relationship is anything but glamorous and provides a real image of the downward spiral intimacy can take.
Thus, in tandem with nature, the overarching theme of this story is the importance of relationships and love. While usually incorporated into stories in a predictable way, the theme of love avoids ordinary cliches in this story by its representation in many kinds of relationships. A love for siblings, parents, significant others, nature, and one’s self all came together to form a wonderfully complicated and realistic image of how love is infused into life whether we notice it or not.