In 1969, local golden boy Chase Andrews is found dead in the marsh outside Barkley Cove, North Carolina. Immediately the locals suspect Kya Clark, who is known as the “Marsh Girl.” As the investigation into Chase’s death occurs in the present, the narrative also explores Kya’s childhood and the experiences that led to her solitary life in the marsh.
Owens’ writing is so wonderfully evocative. She writes of the North Carolina marshes and coast with such love and admiration for its beauty and creatures. Even the human beings who inhabit it, set apart from the rest of the community, command a sort of respect and mystery. There’s a great sense of the small-town and all of its characters and history, too.
Kya is a resourceful, tough person–you’d have to be, after being abandoned in the swamp as a very young kid. But she finds beauty and hope and fulfillment in her solitary life. Less solitary, of course, after she becomes friends with a local boy named Tate, who teaches her to read, and then later, when she becomes acquainted with Chase Andrews. And from there, it’s a “did she or didn’t she” mystery as far as Kya’s role in Chase’s death.
There’s a real sense of magic to this story of a tough rural girl’s coming of age, and the lengths she’ll go to to keep herself safe. The stand-out part of the novel is the perfect sense of place and the depiction of Kya’s life out in the wild, where the crawdads sing.