Book Review: Where The Crawdads Sing

Both a coming-of-age narrative and murder mystery, Where The Crawdads Sing follows “Marsh Girl” Kya Clark from early childhood, when she is abandoned by her family and left to survive alone in the marshes on the North Carolina coast, to early adulthood, when she becomes a suspect in a murder case. The two timelines alternate throughout the book until Kya’s coming-of-age trajectory eventually catches up to the murder trial.

The book: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Genre: Historical fiction/mystery/coming-of-age
My rating: 3 stars out of 5

The gorgeously immersive setting of the marshes on the North Carolina coast immediately drew me into this book, but the first 100-or-so pages moved very slowly, plot-wise. Some of that slowness seemed necessary to portray Kya’s self-reliance and loneliness. The mundane details of her fishing, cooking, and doing handiwork in her shack demonstrate how hard she worked to survive alone. The long, slow-moving passages where Kya observes wildlife and ruminates in nature allow the reader to really feel the slowness and loneliness of Kya’s day-to-day life. But that being said, the novel still could have been around 60-70 pages shorter.

It’s also worth noting that Owens phonetically spells out the characters’ Southern dialects. I found this jarring and uncomfortable at first, but quickly got used to it and even found that it further immersed me in the Southern setting. I don’t think that the phonetic spelling of dialects in this book was problematic, since Owens was born and raised in southern Georgia and speaks with a Southern dialect herself.

Where this book really shined for me was in its tender portrayal of societal and environmental issues. Through Kya’s story, Owens demonstrates how hard it is to get an education in certain parts of the United States, how individuals from poor communities can end up in perpetual cycles of disadvantage, and how being “othered” by society has detrimental effects on a developing child. While showing all of this, Owens also compassionately rejects stereotypes: she never judges Kya’s mom or siblings for abandoning their family, she demonstrates that Kya is quite intelligent and resourceful despite lacking a formal education, and she even portrays Kya’s abusive father with considerable nuance (not so much so that it excuses his abuse – just enough to show that he is complicated).

I also enjoyed the way Where The Crawdads Sing spans multiple genres. The book is described as a coming-of-age narrative and murder mystery, but being set in North Carolina in the 1950’s and 60’s before the Civil Rights Movement, it is also very much a historical fiction novel. The book also crosses into romance at times, and into courtroom drama toward the end. And as mentioned before, there is beautifully vivid nature writing throughout. However, some genres were explored more successfully than others. I found the legal/courtroom drama scenes to be the most engaging and evocative, and the romance to be a bit trite.

Overall, I enjoyed and would recommend Where The Crawdads Sing. It’s not a perfect novel, but I appreciated its immersive setting, its themes of accepting others and rejecting stereotypes, and the page-turning courtroom scenes toward the end.

Side note: based on the Goodreads rating (4.5), most readers really connected with this book, so perhaps I’m being too harsh or just didn’t connect with the writing as much as others did.

Unimportant fun fact: the author, Delia Owens, and I went to the same universities (although not at the same time, and not in the same order).

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: Where The Crawdads Sing”

  1. That sounds like an important fun fact to me!! 😂 It’s a weird form of bragging rights lol. I have actually tried reading this before (at a bookstore) and couldn’t connect to it because it felt sooo slooow, and given its subject matter I’m baffled at the very high rating. I feel like I might agree with you on this one, though I’m not opposed to giving it a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It gets better and faster, especially toward the end…but I’m not sure if it’s worth struggling through the beginning, especially if you didn’t like it the first time! Hahah maybe we can agree to disagree with the hype surrounding this one 😅😅

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I started reading novels in Southern dialect when I was in college and realized it’s like learning a new language. Authors like Zora Neale Hurston and Paul Laurence Dunbar write rich dialect that just thrills me. However, one complaint I’ve heard a few times about Owns novel is that the main character is an uneducated white girl who doesn’t speak in dialect, and yet all the black characters do. Did you notice anything like this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never read Sora Neale Hurston OR Paul Laurence Dunbar – it sounds like maybe I should! From what I observed, Kya does speak in dialect at the beginning, but after she gets tutored by a more educated friend she drops the dialect. There is also a (white) character who disappears and then comes back, and when he comes back he has dropped his dialect too. I’m not sure if that’s very realistic, though, and so the complaint you describe is very valid.


      1. Twelve years ago I went into an MFA program, and one of my peers was from Georgia. He sounded VERY Georgia. After two years in Indiana in the program the accent faded a bit. But he moved back to Georgia, and just a couple of weeks ago we had a digital reunion. He sounds SUPER Georgia again. I think accents adapt to where we are, but they don’t totally go away.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh that is really interesting! Georgia is a good example where the regional accents are like another language. When I went to school there some of the international students struggled with southern professors’ courses, because the English the professors spoke was so different from what the students had learned/practiced before coming to the U.S.


          1. I was reading Flannery O’Connor’s biography and discovered that when she went to an MFA program in Iowa, no one could understand her. Her first meeting with a professor was done through handwritten notes!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review! I’ve been meaning to check this one out but wasn’t sure whether it would work for me- I’ve seen some mixed reviews. I suspect I’ll feel similarly to you when I do get around to it, with a mix of pros and cons, so I am glad you found it worthwhile in the end!

    Liked by 1 person

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