Murder in the Marsh

Looking for a new read? Open the New York Times Best Seller “Where the Crawdads Sing” to explore a story of girlhood and human-appreciation of the natural world.


Cierra Nervo

Growing up in a world shunned by people and nurtured by the environment, Delia Owen’s 2018 romance and murder mystery novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” explores the story of Danielle “Kya” Clark. This coming-of-age story explores themes of self-discovery and appreciating the natural world. Set in the 1950s, readers are thrown into a marsh in North Carolina. The marsh becomes more than just a backdrop; it becomes a character in itself, reflecting the complexities of human nature and the interconnectedness between humans and the environment. Abandoned by her family at the age of 10, Kya was forced to learn how to survive and battle loneliness in the desolate and substantial domain of the marsh.

She finds solace and companionship in the marsh and its diverse wildlife. Over the years, townspeople call her “dirty,” “the marsh girl,” “missing link,” and “marsh trash.” Run out of school and shunned by the locals, Kya’s character symbolizes perseverance and self-reliance.

Dealing with constant insults and harassment from the local townspeople, deeming her the “Marsh Girl,” this story portrays a prejudiced and intolerant society in the 1950s South. The social dynamics throughout the novel are also seen through a segregated America. The two central Black characters, a shopkeeper named Jumpin’ and his caring wife Mabel, represent the racial dynamics in the story. Along with being the unofficial-adoptive parents of abandoned Kya, Jumpin’ and Kya’s bond reaches farther lengths, sharing the label as outsiders from the white town that shuns them.

American zoologist Delia Owens, like Kya, grew up in solitude in the South. She spent most of her childhood befriending critters and existing in the “true wilderness,” as she puts it. The 74-year-old scientist’s works follow the decades she spent in the deserts, studying the wildlife of Botswana and Zambia.

The theme of motherhood is a complex argument throughout the novel, as Kya loathes herself for loving the mother that abandoned her. The theme of motherhood most likely originated from Owen’s mother, who inspired young Owen to treat nature as her companion. Her mom used the title to tell young Owens to “go way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”

“Where the Crawdads Sing” portrays the appreciation of nature better than many other books that have attempted it. Owen’s ode to the natural world is symbolized through extravagant descriptions and poems, such as the opening line: “Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky.”

When a popular boy in town is found dead, the “Marsh Girl” becomes the prime suspect in the town’s murder case, once again becoming the target of abuse by the locals. The popular boy in question, Chase Andrews, represents one of the few romantic and sexual relationships that Kya was exposed to in her teen years. Along with Tate Walker, the only other human presence and friend in the Marsh, Kya’s relationships portray the social complexities of a girl who grew up alone, with no parental or sibling figures to guide her. Owens intertwines two timelines to describe both the isolations of a young girl and the societal battles of a young woman.

A year and a half after the novel was published, it sold over four million copies. By the end of 2019, “‘Crawdads’ has sold more print copies than any other adult title this year — fiction or nonfiction,” said New York Times writer Alexandra Alter.

The book has been receiving a lot of attention. Actress and producer Reese Witherspoon promoted the book on her online book club, the Hello Sunshine Book Club, where she celebrates female authors. The attention it received led to Witherspoon making a movie adaptation in 2022.

Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky

— Delia Owens

The novel’s mesmerizing effects and profound story have also received attention from the music world. American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift’s original song, “Carolina,” appearing in the movie’s end credits, was said to have been written specifically for the story. The artist speaks on how she wrote the song about a story of a girl who always lived on the outside, both figuratively and literally.

“‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ is a book I got absolutely lost in when I read it years ago,” she wrote on Instagram. “I wanted to create something haunting and ethereal to match this mesmerizing story.”

Juxtaposing themes of loneliness and independence, human connections, and appreciation for the natural world, Owens creates an addictive read worthy of every bookworm’s attention.