Book Report: Where the Crawdads Sing

Spoiler: Master Naturalists will LOVE it.

Suna Kendall

Here’s one of those quirky facts about me that I’m not sure where it came from: I strongly resist jumping on the bandwagon of the latest “popular item,” whether it’s music, types of cars, clothing fads (no one has ever seen my bare midriff in public) decorating styles (“a nice, bright white”), and most assuredly, books.

Oh no, everyone’s reading it. It has to be smarmy.

So, when I was first encouraged to read Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, I resisted. I kept thinking it would be one of those motivational books like The Secret or Chicken Soup for the Soul or that book about the shed…oh, The Shack. I figured, if everyone was reading it, snobby intellectual elitest Suna had probably read all the original source material.

That’s a bit harsh. I admit to not being fond of most books with mass appeal. But, the person who recommended Where the Crawdads Sing to me is also an intellectual elitist, and it’s a novel, so how could I have already read the source material? Oh, I know, it’s probably all formulaic and full of poor attempts at regional accents, with too many big words where small ones will do. Yeah. And it’s in Reese Witherspoon’s book club. Ew…

Suck it up, Suna

Well, I ended up having to read it, anyway, because the neighborhood book club chose it, and the women who recommended it to us really know a great book when they see one. Indeed, I hopped on the Crawdad bandwagon and started reading it.

Pause to enjoy Anita’s Chamaelobivia (rose quartz) cactus in full bloom.

The first day I started reading, I read through all of Part 1 in one big rush. I could not make myself stop. The plot and characters made me sad, and mad, and fascinated. And THEN all the stuff about plants and animals came in. It wasn’t someone trying to be a naturalist because the character she wrote was one, it was an actual naturalist writing accurate observations, but beautifully.

I made myself stop and read something else for a few days, so I could savor what I’d already read. I went back and read some of the poems in the book over again. They reminded me of what I used to write when I was wishing I was the next Emily Dickinson. (I failed, but Owens does okay.)

Pause again, to enjoy Pickle in her Elizabethan ruff.

Eventually I had to finish, so I picked it up again. In the meantime, three different people who saw me reading this book stopped to tell me how great it was. But that’s okay. I had disgarded my prejudice against popular novels by that time.

When I was finished, I read the last couple of chapters over again. Dang. For a first-time novelist, Owens astounded me. Usually former academics don’t make a great transition to fiction. But, she nailed it with her spare but truly evocative prose. She didn’t say too much; she said just enough.

Yes, there is a plot

I’m not going to share my favorite parts of the book, because I want to let my friends and readers get it for themselves and enjoy it fresh, like I did. I’ll just give you a quote:

“A painfully beautiful first novel that is at once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature….Owens here surveys the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast through the eyes of an abandoned child. And in her isolation that child makes us open our own eyes to the secret wonders—and dangers—of her private world.”

The New York Times Book Review

Oooh, scary, right? Where the Crawdads Sing has affected me like very few novels ever have. It reminds me of my all-time favorite, The Color Purple, which I had to place on a table near me for years, just so I could look at it and read a few random pages to re-enter that world again. Like the characters Alice Walker created in The Color Purple, I love the people in that little North Carolina village, warts and all.

Buy this book! You don’t have to be a nature-lover or naturalist to appreciate it, but naturalists will enjoy the references to Aldo Leopold. Yes, by gosh, I apparently now have TWO favorite novels (I realize they both were very popular, for good reasons, so I’m not ashamed).

Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog and many others. I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I manage technical writers in Austin, help with Hearts Homes and Hands, a personal assistance service, in Cameron, and serve on three nonprofit boards. You may know me from La Leche League, knitting, iNaturalist, or Facebook. I'm interested in ALL of you!

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