Where the Crawdads Sing Book Review: The Trials and Triumphs of a Life Lived on One’s Own Terms

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If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to fall in love with a swamp (!) Delia Owens breaks it down and convinces you to fall in love, as well.

Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace—as though not built to fly—against the roar of a thousand snow geese.

Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing is a great book-club book because it explores several themes and is a bit divisive in terms of taste—both of which make the discussion richer! As an added bonus, Delia Owens’ website has an entire Book Club Kit which includes a discussion guide, an interview with Delia Owens, and Kya’s cookbook. Anytime I read a book that interests me, I go online to find more information, so I really appreciate that Owens took the extra step to create these resources. For our book club, I added some questions to address topics about the book and the author that we wanted to discuss. Our discussion for Crawdads was so fun and engaging. We may have spent half the time trying to determine if Owens intended to write about a murder in isolation—when she witnessed a real-life murder in isolation in Africa many years earlier.

Jump to Where the Crawdads Sing discussion questions

Consensus from our group re Crawdads is that some elements were successful and some were unsuccessful. Owens clearly loves nature, and we all appreciated that she could describe nature so beautifully. Owens was successful in another way, too: Kya’s story prompts the reader to ask big questions. For example, questions about the interactions of economic disparities and race, the trade-offs between living on your own terms and living in dangerous isolation, the merits of formal education versus an education through experience with the natural world, and how the pursuit of a higher understanding of our world can results in a higher understanding of ourselves.


Wine Selection & Tasting Notes

Lone Orchid Riesling. Scent: Starfruit, pineapple, green apple. The note of green apple continues on the palate, and sweetness and tang is reminiscent of a green apple jolly rancher–in a fun way!


Review cont.

Kya’s inner narration references the natural world again and again to explain her relationships and work through her problems. For anyone who has ever taken a moment to appreciate the quiet calm that the natural world can bring to the noise of competing worries inside your mind, you will absolutely love how Owens describes Kya’s experience with nature.

As she pushed off, she knew no one would ever see this sandbar again. The elements had created a brief and shifting smile of sand, angled just so. The next tide, the next current would design another sandbar, and another, but never this one. Not the one who caught her. The one who told her a thing or two.

An unsuccessful element of Crawdads is the amount of telling versus showing that occurs with increasing frequency the further along you get in the novel. Our group also felt that the pacing dragged in the middle. But one of my biggest issues with the story is with the main mystery…

Any plot or style contentions aside, the ethereal descriptions of nature and Kya’s connection to the land are undeniably beautiful, and they permeate the novel. Crawdads is primarily this: a depiction of life lived on one’s own terms. And in that way, it is very well done.

She strolled like a sleepwalker as the moon pulled herself naked from the waters and climbed limb by limb through the oaks. The slick mud of the lagoon shore glowed in the intense light, and hundreds of fireflies dotted the woods. Wearing a secondhand white dress with a flowing skirt and waving her arms slowly about, Kya waltzed to the music of katydids and leopard frogs.


Where the Crawdads Sing Discussion Questions

  1. The author of Crawdads, Delia Owens, has lived a fascinating life, including spending several years in Africa with her husband and stepson working as conservationists. They have been in advised not to return to the African nation of Zambia because they are wanted for questioning for the murder of a poacher. In 1995, a poacher was shot and killed and some witnesses have implicated Owens’ stepson and husband. “And despite being set in a different place and time, her bestselling novel contains striking echoes of those volatile years in the wilderness.”
    • How much truth do you think is in this fiction? Is Owens trying to tell the world something about the events that occurred in Zambia? Perhaps she did so accidentally?
    • Consider the state of affairs in Africa leading up to the incident. “In 1979, there were about a million three hundred thousand elephants in Africa; ten years later, the population had fallen by half. By the late eighties, some countries, including Kenya, had found the problem serious enough to institute a shoot-to-kill policy, allowing poachers to be shot on sight. Zambia, which had no such official policy, was heavily afflicted by poaching.” 
    • Consider too this quote from Crawdads “…the marsh dwellers bootlegged their own laws–not like those burned onto stone tablets or inscribed on documents, but deeper ones, stamped in their genes. Ancient and natural, like those hatched from hawks and doves. When cornered, desperate, or isolated, man reverts to those instincts that aim straight at survival. Quick and just. … Among themselves, doves fight as often as hawks.”
  1. The North Carolina marsh where Kya lives has long been a sanctuary for outsiders. How does this setting shape the novel?
    • How does growing up in this isolation affect Kya? In what ways does her status as an “outsider” change how others see her?
  2. Why does Kya choose not to go back to school? Do you think she makes the wrong decision? How would her character be different if she had gone to school?
    • Does Owens seem to have an opinion about the education Kya would have received at public school?  
  3. Why do you think Jumpin’ decides to protect Kya from social services? To what extent to you agree or disagree with this decision? (p. 110) 
  4. How did you feel about Kya’s mother’s decision to leave at the beginning of the book? Did your feelings change when Jodie revealed her reasons for leaving and for staying away?
    • Within all the worlds of biology, she searched for an explanation of why a mother would leave her offspring.
  5. Kya often watches the other young people from town— she even nicknames them “Tallskinnyblonde, Ponytailfreckleface, Shortblackhair, Alwayswearspearls, and Roundchubbycheeks” (p. 80). What does Kya learn from observing these girls? Why do you think she keeps her watching secret? Do you agree with Kya’s secrecy?
  6. How is womanhood explored throughout the novel? What does being a woman mean to Kya? How does she relate to the other women in Barkley Cove?
  7. Discuss Kya’s relationship with Tate. How does Tate’s understanding of Kya change over time? Is Tate a good partner for Kya? Why or why not?
  8. Tate’s father tells him that poems are important because “they make ya feel something” (p. 48). What does poetry mean to Tate? What does it mean to Kya? How does poetry help Kya throughout the novel? Did you like the poetry that was included throughout the story? How did you feel about the surprise at the end that Kya was publishing poetry?
  9. Kya watches the fireflies near her shack and notices that the females can change their flashes to signal different things. What does this realization mean to Kya? What does it teach her about relationships? How does this lesson influence Kya’s decisions in the second half of the novel?
    • Kya watched others. The females got what they wanted–first a mate, then a meal–just by changing their signals. Kya knew judgment had no place here. Evil was not in play, just life pulsing on, even at the expense of some of the players. Biology sees right and wrong as the same color in different light. (pg. 142)
  10. Discuss how Kya’s observations of nature shape her vision of the world. Do you think these lessons adequately prepare her for life in Barkley Cove? Do you think human society follows the same rules as the natural world? Should it? Why or why not?
    • Kya was physically insulated from society by the natural landscape around her home. Do you think Kya used her understanding of the natural world to emotionally insulate herself from society?
  11. Is Chase a different kind of man than Tate? How are they different? Is one man better? Do you think that their differences are biological or learned? How does Kya see each man?
  12. When Tate fails to return as planned, Kya has to adjust her expectations of her interactions with the world going forward. Instead of collapsing inward, she eventually rallies and reaches out again for human contact. Much later in the book she even reunites with Tate. Was this progression in keeping with Kya’s characterization up to this point in the book or was this a turning point?
    • “Why, Tate, why?” She mumbled into the sheets, “You were supposed to be different. To stay. You said you loved me, but there is no such thing. There is no one on Earth you can count on.” From somewhere very deep, she made herself a promise never to trust or love anyone again.
  13. In the end of the novel, Kya thinks “Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would. If consequences resulted from her behaving differently, then they too were functions of life’s fundamental core” (p. 363). What does she mean? Do you agree with her philosophy? What do you think it means to be a good person? Do you think Kya is a good person? Why or why not?
    • Tate’s devotion eventually convinced her that human love is more than the bizarre mating competitions of the marsh creatures, but life also taught her that ancient genes for survival still persist in some undesirable forms among the twists and turns of man’s genetic code.
  14. Were you surprised by the verdict in the Chase’s murder trial? What about by the ending of the novel? Do you agree with Tate’s final decision? Why or why not?