The story of the marsh is the third major story line in this novel, the one that makes the novel soar above the love story and the murder mystery.
There are two interwoven story lines in Delia Owens' debut novel. One begins in 1952 with a six-year old girl living with her family in a shack in the North Carolina coastal marsh. It follows her life until it intersects with the other story line, a murder mystery, set in 1969, when a young man's body is found at the bottom of a fire tower, suspected of being the victim of foul play.
The young girl, Kya, lives with her large family. One by one, her brothers and sisters, her mother, and finally her abusive father, abandon Kya, leaving her to care for herself and grow up alone in the marsh. She manages, and her life alone is a tale in itself. She's independent and distrustful of everyone, almost like a wild animal. She digs up mussels from the muddy marsh and sells them to earn enough money to survive. Eventually she reaches her teens, and a boy enters the picture. The story then evolves into a bittersweet coming-of-age tale. Teen girls ought to love this part. Teen boys, too, if they are honest.
The murder mystery is over the death of a young man, the former star quarterback of the small town's high school. Rumors surrounded him and the so-called "marsh girl" for years, so naturally suspicion falls on her when his body is found at the bottom of the tower. How that suspicion plays out and is resolved takes up the second half of the novel.
Mixing these two story lines results in the most surprising thing: a sweet murder mystery.
The marsh is almost a character in its own right. Kya becomes a self-taught naturalist, learning the birds, the flowers, the grasses, the mushrooms, the tides and the seasons. She uses painting supplies left behind by her mother and becomes an accomplished artist of the natural world. It's clear that Delia Owens herself loves nature and the Carolina coast. In fact, she is a zoologist with a PhD in Animal Behavior and lived 23 years in Africa studying lions, elephants and other wildlife. Now she finally turns her attention to writing fiction. It was like her whole life was a prelude to writing this beautiful story.
"Where the Crawdads Sing" is available in Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library. :-)