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Literature / Where the Crawdads Sing

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Where the Crawdads Sing is a 2018 novel by Delia Owens.

In The '50s, Kya Clark is a young girl living in a shack in the marsh near the small town of Barkley Cove, North Carolina. As her family abandons her one by one, she learns to survive on her own.

As a teenager, she falls in love with Tate Walker, a boy a few years older than herself, who teaches her to read.

On October 30, 1969, Chase Andrews, the son of the wealthiest family in town, is found dead by the water tower, and Sheriff Ed Jackson suspects murder. The prime suspect is Kya, aka "Marsh Girl," who is now a young woman.


Where the Crawdads Sing contains examples of:

  • Absence of Evidence: The first thing Jackson notices about the scene of Chase's death is that there are no footprints in the muck near him or the water tower ladder, leading him to think they were destroyed.
  • Agony of the Feet: Seven-year-old Kya jumps out of her brothers' tree house and lands on a rusty nail sticking out of a plank. She's heard of lockjaw but doesn't know where she could get a shot, so instead she soaks her foot in saltwater and mud for a few days while exercising her jaw, and is lucky enough not to get sick.
  • Attempted Rape: Two months before Chase's death, he comes back to Kya's cabin to persuade her to be The Mistress. When Kya refuses, he punches her in the face and tries to rape her. She escapes with a Groin Attack. Two fishermen witness her beating him, screaming death threats, and then fleeing in her boat, and testify about it at the trial.
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  • Break-Up Bonfire: After everyone except Kya and Pa leaves, Pa throws Ma's books, paintings, dresses, and radio into a bonfire. Kya rushes to stop him and manages to save some of her things.
  • Clothing-Concealed Injury: The day Ma leaves, she ties a white scarf across her forehead, but the edges of a bruise are still visible.
  • Cut Himself Shaving:
    • Kya tells Tate that her bruise from being punched by Chase is from running into a door in the middle of the night.
    • She tells her lawyer, Tom Milton, that the scratches she made on her arm are from mosquito bites.
  • Dies Wide Open: Chase is found with his eyes and mouth open.
  • Distant Finale: The book ends in 2009, with 64-year-old Kya dying of a heart attack in her boat. The whole town attends her funeral, even though she never visited the town again after her trial. Looking through her shack after her death, Tate finds Chase's shell necklace and a poem Kya wrote strongly implying that she did, in fact, kill him.
  • Domestic Abuse: Pa used to get drunk and beat Ma and all the kids. After everyone else leaves, Kya learns how to stay out of his way so he won't beat her.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Kya remembers Pa whipping her with a belt for trying to stop him from beating Ma.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: During her first and only day of school, Kya sits at an empty table to eat lunch.
  • Foreshadowing: Kya observes how female fireflies will sometimes switch their signal to attract a male of another species, only to lure him in and kill him. The ending of the book reveals she indeed killed Chase, by luring him to the water tower, likely by promising him sex, and then killed him. The name of the poem where she confesses this is even titled "Firefly".
  • Honey Trap: Kya watches female fireflies flash their mating signal. One of them suddenly switches to the signal of another species; when a male of that species flies over to mate with her, she grabs and eats him.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Chase's mother, Patti Love, thinks Kya killed Chase because she was jealous of his wife Pearl.
  • Let's Wait a While: Tate refuses to have sex with Kya because he's legal and she isn't, and because he's afraid moving too quickly will damage her. Later, Kya delays sex with Chase Andrews for a long time, because she'd feel cheap if she had sex too soon after getting to know him.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The crime scene is set up to look like Chase accidentally fell through a grate in the water tower.
  • Minor Living Alone: Without Pa's disability checks to support her, Kya gathers mussels and catches fish and sells them to Jumpin', who runs the gas station. She uses the money to buy food and kerosene, and mostly wears hand-me-downs from her vanished siblings. She pretends Pa still lives with her so the authorities won't take her away.
  • Miranda Rights: Deputy Joe Purdue Mirandizes Kya as he arrests her for Chase's murder. She tunes out after "You have the right to remain silent..."
  • Moment of Weakness: While Pa was fighting in France, his sergeant was shot and fell twenty feet from the foxhole. Everyone scrambled to rescue him except Pa, who was too scared to move. Then a mortar exploded outside the hole, shattering his left femur. It was assumed that he was hit while trying to rescue the sergeant, so he was awarded a medal and a medical discharge. Only he knew the truth. Full of shame, Pa descended into alcoholism and gave up on providing a better life for his family.
  • Never Learned to Read: Kya attends exactly one day of school when she's seven. As a result, up until Tate starts giving her lessons, she can't read any words except her name.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname:
    • Kya's real name is Catherine, but she goes by a childhood mispronunciation.
    • After her siblings leave, she can only remember their nicknames. As a teenager, she learns their real names from the family Bible: Missy is Mary Helen, Murph is Napier Murphy, Mandy is Amanda Margaret, and Jodie is Jeremy Andrew.
  • Parental Abandonment: Kya's mom leaves when she's six, followed by her teenage siblings. For the next few years, her pa is distant and neglectful, sometimes leaving for days at a time, and he abandons her for good when she's ten.
  • Self-Harm: In the county jail, Kya plucks her hair and scratches her arms hard enough to leave marks.
  • Self-Made Woman: After Tate teaches Kya to read, she becomes a voracious reader of biology textbooks, not caring that they're too advanced for her. Her reading combined with her careful observation of the marsh wildlife makes her more educated than most of the townspeople by her early twenties, even though most of them see her as a dumb feral woman. On Tate's advice, she submits her work to a publisher, which compiles it into the most detailed guidebooks of East Coast shells and seabirds that currently exist. The royalty checks allow her to live comfortably and pay off back taxes so the land won't be developed.
  • Single Tear: Mrs. Culpepper, the truant officer, sheds one when Kya is found innocent.
  • Sleepy Depressive: After Tate stops seeing her, Kya doesn't get out of bed for three days.
  • Tears of Joy: Kya cries as she feeds the gulls for the first time in two months after being released from jail.
  • Their First Time: Kya has hers with Chase in a cheap motel during a road trip to Asheville. She finds the experience to be painful and unpleasant, even though she genuinely wanted it.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: The poet Amanda Hamilton, whose work Kya often quotes, is actually Kya herself, publishing her work under a pseudonym in the local paper.
  • Who Murdered the Asshole?: Even though Chase was married, he was extremely promiscuous with both single and married women. Purdue wonders if he was killed by one of the many husbands he cuckolded.


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