Books and Beyond
The first type of bird I looked up after reading “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens, c 2019, was gull. There are many species of gulls, and I found that the laughing gull lives much of the time in the southeast coast of the United States, including North Carolina. That’s where this book takes place — on the marsh near Barkley Cove, N.C., the location named for Kya’s story.
A marsh is a watery place near a large body of water. It wouldn’t be very deep, and could have trees and other plants growing there. The main type of transportation in a marsh would be a boat. That’s how Kya Clark travels when she needs to get to a grocery store or a place to sell the fish she has caught.
Kya learned how to maneuver a boat when she was a young girl. By the time she was 10 years old, her parents and brothers and sister were no longer with her. She tells herself, “I can’t leave the gulls, the heron, the shack. The marsh is all the family I got” (p. 75). People in the town thought of her as the marsh girl, and eventually they figured out that she lived alone.
An older African American couple who treated Kya with love was Jumpin’ and his wife, Mabel. Kya brought fish she caught to Jumpin’ (and she could get gas from him), and Mabel gave her some clothes and gave her hugs.
The book is fiction, but it teaches me so much about living in the marshes of North Carolina — the birds and sea creatures, as well as the people.
The plot of “Where the Crawdads Sing” takes place from 1945 to 2009. Each chapter has a title and a date. These dates move back and forth from when Kya was a young girl and all alone to when she was older and had a boyfriend to be with and eventually when she was the accused person in a trial.
One of the long-lasting themes I take away from the book is that we all have ups and downs to face in life. We have people and places we are nervous about. And we also have people and places that mean everything to us and make our life complete. Sometimes for both animals and humans, survival can require a negative behavior. That’s a description of life that takes some time to understand. These themes are woven through 57 chapters.
I’ve told you enough about theme and plot.
Now I want to describe other interesting aspects of the book. Because Kya’s closest and everyday loves are birds and butterflies, insects and shells, we can learn from her as we read the book. In her rundown house near the marsh, she has collections of butterflies, insects, feathers, and shells.
We read a lot about foods eaten in North Carolina. When little girl Kya was just with her father (and sometimes he wasn’t home), they might have boiled grits with soda crackers. One time when the grits were gone, she spread Crisco shortening on the soda crackers. Another time she cooked a goulash of boiled mustard greens, backbone, and grits. When she was 20, one day she made a supper of buttermilk biscuits, turnips, and pinto beans. At about that time, a supper she cooked for her boyfriend included molasses ham, stirred redeye gravy, sour cream biscuits, and blackberry jam.
There is music in the book. One of her boyfriends plays the harmonica when they are together. Once he played “Shenandoah,” and another time “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” Singing those songs moves me close to Kya’s life.
Poetry is quoted. Her friend Tate, who taught Kya to read, grows up with a dad, Scupper, who likes poetry. One evening Scupper reads to his son the poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service. Yes, Tate and Kya are good friends.
One day Kya finds books that her mother had. One was a collection of poetry, and she read to herself a poem by James Wright and a poem by Galway Kinnell. Lines from James Wright’s poem:
Suddenly lost and cold,
I knew the yard lay bare,
I longed to touch and hold
My child, my talking child,
Laughing or tame or wild . . .(p. 115)
On page 276, we find another poem by Amanda Hamilton, a 12-line poem titled “Broken Gull of Brandon Beach.” It starts
Winged soul, you danced the skies,
And startled dawn with shrilling cries.
Gulls are flying by on the last page of the book, and they are “Calling. Calling” (p. 368).
As I’m writing this review, all copies of the book are checked out from the Plum Creek Library System. So is “The Eye of the Elephant: An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness,” written by Delia and Mark Owens, c 1992, and “Cry of the Kalahari,” by Mark and Delia Owens, c 2014. Feel free to place a hold on any of these titles by using your online account or giving your local library a call. The Marshall-Lyon County main branch is open 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, marshalllyonlibrary.org 507-537-7003