Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Writers love to talk about their WIP (work in progress) and about writing in general. One of our favorite topics? The creative license that allows us to break the rules of communication in the name of style. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen novice writers post about how they are experimenting with a new style or eschewing a writing rule only to be told they have to earn the right to break the rules.
Let me be blunt. None of that makes much sense to me.
While I'm not a tee-totaler when it comes to grammar and sentence structure (mostly because I know I'm not great at those things), I have learned over the years that some creative style choices work and others don't.
If you haven't heard about Delia Owens' novel Where the Crawdads Sing you may have quarantined harder than most or unplugged your internet router and lost connection. Granted, Crawdads doesn't have the controversial fire beneath it like American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins did, Owens' book is all I've heard about since folks stopped talking about Cummins' novel. So, naturally, when I came across a deal online a while back, I picked up a copy of Crawdads to see what all the fuss was about.
Where the Crawdads Sing is, in my opinion, like a backwoods version of Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell. Did you ever read this book? I highly recommend it and have it available for 25% off in my boutique -- click here to purchase! I read O'Dell's book when I was a kid and the story has always stayed with me. It's one of courage and inner beauty. Trust me, you'll love it!
Because of the similarities in the main characters' story lines, I stuck with Crawdads to the end but there were a few things I didn't care for, which brings me back to those blasted rules of writing.
I did a little search and came across some information on creative license. I appreciate Caitlin Berve's thoughts and how she broke them down in this blog post. I won't go into every detail of Berve's post but I wanted to make special note of point #3 where she discouraged writers from "discarding the writing rules."
In Where the Crawdads Sings the main character, Kya, also known as the "Marsh Girl" grows up in an abusive, dysfunctional home that empties itself out one family member at a time. Kya is the youngest of several children, however, the reader only gets to know Kya and her brother, Jodie. As the family is whittled down to just she and her dad, the narrator sets the scene of loneliness and despair.
Note: I should have given more thought to reading a book about an isolated, lonely youth during the hardcore quarantine time of the COVID-19 pandemic...
In setting the stage the narrator uses hyphenated phrases throughout the book (e.g. lip-drips) and pours sentence fragments into almost every descriptor paragraph. Both of these things, rules that should or should not be broken depending on the grammar camp you belong in were not only everywhere but excessively so, to the point that I was yanked from the story line and mired in frustration each time I encountered one.
I know. I know. Delia Owens is a card carrying member of the writing world. Her creative license is probably laminated. But isn't it about writing what works?
The funny thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm in the minority here. This book has over 46,000 reviews that average 5 stars. Meanwhile, I was over here struggling to move past the word choice and sentence structure. When I realized that was just how it was going to be, I then had to deal with the implausibility of the story line.
I don't believe an almost 18 year old man, who is clearly smitten with a teenage girl, is going to kindly tell her about menstruation and then bring her petite cakes to celebrate her entry into womanhood.
I don't believe Kya had a bionic immune system rendering her incapable of ever falling ill despite her horrific diet and lack of human contact.
I don't believe the ramshackle house she grew up in never had a roof leak or structural problems that rendered it a hazard.
I don't believe an entire city, no matter how prejudiced against "marsh trash" would turn a blind eye to a child living and growing up alone without intervening more than Jumpin' and Mabel did.
I don't believe an abusive male is going to lose his sh*t and, while doing so, list out the things he's enraged about (fancy dresses, chocolate bunnies, and Easter eggs). Sorry. It doesn't happen that way. This particular scene was the hardest for me to swallow because I've lived that kind of abuse and when a person is that far beyond reason, they don't articulate, they hurl ugly words and inanimate objects while making no sense at all.
I feel better now that I've gotten that out.
Let me be clear though. The book wasn't all bad. There were some things I really liked about it and not just the fact that it reminded me of O'Dell's book, thus providing a sense of nostalgia. Since I chose a list style for some of things I didn't like I'll do the same for things I liked. Besides, who doesn't like a good list?
I enjoyed a few of the characters. Kya and Jumpin' were unique and interesting. I related to a few of Kya's life experiences.
The overall layout of the story and how Owens paralleled Kya's growing up years with the novel's present day was well done. I never felt lost as I read the parallel events of the early 1950s compared to 1969.
I thought the courtroom part of the book was great. I'm a serious John Grisham fan and love a good court scene.
There was a consistent element of mystery throughout the book. In fact, I may have to give Crawdads more than 2.5 stars because of that. The author provided just enough information that when I thought I had it all figured out, I didn't.
Do you love a good mystery? I know I do. I grew up reading the Trixie Belden series.
Finally, for the most part, Owens set the scene. Even though I found some parts unlikely and don't care for her style of writing she paints a vivid setting. The marsh was realistic.
Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing? What did you think of it? I'd love to hear your thoughts. What did you like/dislike? Have you read any of Owens' other work? I wasn't surprised to learn she's quite the non-fiction author as she portrayed a knowledge about science and nature in her novel.
Note: There you have it...I gave the book an extra 1/2 star for the mystery element.