I was surprised to discover Where the Crawdads Sing still has a long holds list. It was originally released in August 2018 as Delia Owens’ first novel and it has had an incredible run on the bestseller list. She previously co-authored three nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa. On April 26, 2020, Owens wrote, “Where the Crawdads Sing is Number 1 again on the NYT Bestseller List for a total of 21 months on the list. But also now Crawdads is Number 1 in Germany and selected as the most-loved novel In Switzerland. I am so grateful and honored” (author’s Facebook page).
Where the Crawdads Sing will draw you in with vivid natural scenes, a strong and sympathetic female lead, and a page-turning courtroom drama. Kya was abandoned by her family and survives on her own in the marshes of North Carolina. Known to those in the nearby town as the Marsh Girl, she is viewed as strange, feral and possibly mentally impaired.
In reality she is strong, smart as a whip and keenly interested in the natural world around her. One of the book’s biggest strengths is the beauty of the imagery. Through Kya’s eyes we see the wildlife, water and plants of her home in the marsh aglow with wonder and reverence. Though she does not have formal education, she knows the marsh down to the tiniest detail, every ripple of water and bend of the grass. Kya is the natural suspect when a man is found dead in the marsh. As the story alternates from the outdoors to the courtroom, her secrets unfold for all to see. If you’re still waiting, here are some titles to keep you busy in the meantime. Or, if you’re one of the lucky readers who’ve read Crawdads, you’ll find books to fill the void it left in your reading list.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
I love Kingsolver and this is my favorite of her novels. Actually it’s in my top five of all time. If you’re drawn to the natural world, strong female characters and fiction infused with real biology, you’ll love this book. It’s summer in Appalachia and three women are immersed in nature. Deanna Wolfe is a wildlife biologist living alone on the mountain. She observes and protects animals with a special interest in coyotes and the vanished red wolf.
Lusa Maluf Landowski is a city girl who has always been drawn to nature. She is postdoctoral assistant at the University of Kentucky specializing in moths. She meets a brilliant farmer, marries him and moves to rural Appalachia. Lusa finally feels she has mastered the domestic role of farmer’s wife when her husband is killed in an accident and she must run the farm.
Nannie runs an organic farm in the valley. She struggles to maintain distance from the pesticide-spraying, cranky man next door. Then they find out they have several things in common. The story is built on alternating perspectives and worldviews. Each woman is facing her own set of challenges. We gradually see how all of the characters are connected to each other and the greater whole. Check this out instantly as an ebook or audiobook on Hoopla.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
I fell in love with this book set in Alaska and focused on a girl growing into young womanhood. It captures a coming-of-age story of 13-year-old Leni who must survive in a wild place. She’s a reader, an unwilling loner and tough as nails. Since her dad returned from Vietnam, he’s been restless and angry. He’s always seeking a fresh start in a new town, so Leni is used to moving around. Their move to Alaska could be just what he needs – or it could be a huge, dark mistake. Like Crawdads, The Great Alone describes the setting and the natural world in such a way that you almost feel you are there. You might need to cozy up in a blanket if you read for long stretches. I cheered for Leni all the way and cried at the final twist. This read is instantly available as an audiobook on Hoopla, or on OverDrive as an ebook.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Speaking of feral, untended children, Bryn Greenwood’s 2016 novel both warmed and broke my heart. Wavy is the daughter of a drug dealer. She’s learned to count on herself and to take care of her little brother. Like Kya, Wavy finds solace in the beauty of nature, especially the constellations in the big skies above Kansas. The action of the book moves with a relationship between Wavy and a man named Kellen. He’s the one kind, warm person in her life. She sees his goodness. Wavy believes her relationship with him is beautiful even as it changes and becomes more mature in her teen years.
When Wavy is removed from her home and given to the custody of an aunt, her relationship with Kellen is seen through the lens of the law and the adult world. It is not looked on favorably. There are heavy consequences for Kellen. Wavy is thrown into a tailspin. The story is told from multiple perspectives so we see the situation from different angles. There are no easy answers to the questions raised. Like Where the Crawdads Sing, the writing is atmospheric and haunting. You will continue thinking about the story long after you’ve turned the final page. It’s available as an ebook on OverDrive.
The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
The Death of Bees features young girls who know how to take care of themselves. They are coming of age in difficult circumstances and the plot twists and turns as it reveals secrets. Two sisters, Marnie and Nelly, find their parents dead. They bury the bodies in the backyard to avoid being sent to foster care. They have long been neglected and are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. Besides, in only a year, Marnie will be old enough to be Nelly’s legal guardian.
We see the environment poisoned and strained as the girls move through a fractured world. The abuse of the natural world is a perfect parallel to the poisoned parenting that forces a little girl to be a mother to her sister, going back as long as she can remember. As the sisters attempt to hide, avoid questions and lie to stay free, the family’s secrets begin to unravel. While there is much darkness in the story, there is also a fierce glow of goodness and humanity that will leave you with a good feeling at the end of the book. This read is available as an ebook on OverDrive, or instantly as an audiobook on Hoopla.
After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
This one is the stretch. You won’t soon forget After the Flood with it’s strong, self-sufficient female leads. It’s a compelling “what if” story. Imagine you’re pregnant and the world is ravaged by floods. One day your husband takes your older daughter and flees, leaving you behind. What would you risk to find her? The story is set a near future where flooding has put much of the world underwater. Myra and her daughter Pearl spend much of their time fishing, trading and just surviving. Myra’s thoughts often linger on her daughter, Row, and Row’s father. When Myra hears that Row has been spotted in the far North, she’ll sacrifice everything for the chance to find her. Will they be reunited? Will Myra get the revenge she craves? At what cost? Like Where the Crawdads Sing, After the Flood poses ethical dilemmas with no easy answers and paints itself across your imagination with vivid imagery. It’savailable instantly as an ebook or audiobook on Hoopla.
Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing? Do you think it lived up to the hype?