Where the Crawdads Sing is a 2018 coming-of-age murder mystery novel by American zoologist Delia Owens. The story follows two timelines that slowly intertwine. The first timeline describes the life and adventures of a young girl named Kya as she grows up isolated in the marshes of North Carolina. The second timeline follows an investigation into the apparent murder of Chase Andrews, a local celebrity of Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town of North Carolina.
By April 2023, the book had sold over 18 million copies. A film adaptation was released in July 2022.
Meaning of the title
Crawdad is an American slang word for crayfish: these crustaceans cannot sing, but when Kya’s mother encouraged her to explore the marsh, she would often say: “Go as far as you can -– way out yonder where the crawdads sing.” When Tate also used the phrase, she asked him the meaning and he replied: “Just means far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters.” Delia Owens was inspired to use the phrase because her own mother had used it when she was a child.
The plot in summary
For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.
But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world—until the unthinkable happens.
In Where the Crawdads Sing, Owens juxtaposes an exquisite ode to the natural world against a profound coming of age story and haunting mystery. Thought-provoking, wise, and deeply moving, Owens’s debut novel reminds us that we are forever shaped by the child within us, while also subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.
The story asks how isolation influences the behavior of a young woman, who like all of us, has the genetic propensity to belong to a group. The clues to the mystery are brushed into the lush habitat and natural histories of its wild creatures.