Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens

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Where the Crawdads Sing Summary

Where the Crawdads Sing is Delia Owens’s 2018 debut novel. Two timelines converge to tell the story of Kya Clark, who grows up in the marshes of North Carolina and is eventually implicated in a murder case.

  • Abandoned by her family members at a young age, Kya must learn to survive on her own. Misunderstood and a loner, she lives off the land by foraging and fishing.
  • A young man named Tate befriends Kya. He teaches her to read and encourages her love of science.
  • When Tate leaves for college, Kya becomes romantically involved with Chase. When Chase mysteriously dies, Kya is accused of murder.


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Last Updated on January 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615

When the novel begins, Kya is a seven-year-old living in a marshland shack with her parents and siblings. Because of Kya's abusive father, whom she calls Pa, Kya's mother abandons their family and takes the youngest siblings with her. The rest of Kya’s siblings leave on their own shortly after—and Pa and Kya are left alone. Pa neglects Kya and spends most of his time drinking and gambling, though he does teach Kya how to fish and gives her a backpack to collect shells and feathers. Kya begins to rely on the marsh as a source of comfort and protection from the abuse at home. Three years later, Kya's father also leaves the shack, and she must learn to survive on her own.

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Kya learns to fend for herself and manages to survive on the marsh’s resources; she gardens on her own and trades mussels and smoked fish with Jumpin’, the owner of a local gas station. Jumpin’ and his wife, Mabel, look out for Kya during these years and supply her with donated clothes. 

An older boy named Tate Walker meets Kya in her early teens, and the two become friends. Tate teaches Kya to read and gives her books and a makeshift education before he leaves for college. Tate leaves without saying goodbye to Kya, and Kya feels betrayed and abandoned without her friend and mentor. While Tate is at college, Kya meets a popular local boy named Chase Andrews, who invites her to a picnic and tries to have sex with her. She refuses, but the two continue to see each other and go on dates together.

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Tate returns to North Carolina to conduct research on the biology of the marshland in Barkley Cove, where Kya lives. When Tate returns, he discovers that Kya has continued to collect and document seashells, and he encourages her to get her work published as a reference book. Tate also warns Kya about Chase, and while he says he does so because of Chase’s poor treatment of women, it is clear that Tate's main motivation is to rekindle his own relationship with Kya. But Kya is still hurt by Tate’s abandonment and refuses his advances. She continues seeing Chase and gives him a rawhide necklace with a shell he found on one of their dates together.  

Chase expresses his hopes to marry Kya, and Kya consents to having sex with him. Not long after, Kya reads in the newspaper that Chase has become engaged to another girl; devastated by this news, Kya realizes that Chase has manipulated her into having sex.

Kya eventually sends her seashell research to publishers and has her work published when she is in her early twenties. One day, Kya's brother Jodie finds her book in a bookstore and goes back to Barkley Cove to reconnect with Kya. He expresses his remorse for leaving Kya behind and informs her of their mother’s death two years before.

Chase confronts Kya after he is married and asks her to have a relationship with him again. When Kya refuses Chase, he tries to rape her. Later, Chase's body is found underneath a fire tower he and Kya had once climbed together in the marsh. Kya is investigated for his murder but is eventually acquitted of the crime.

Tate and Kya start their relationship again and live together in the marsh until Kya dies of natural causes in her boat at the age of sixty-four. After her death, Tate finds a box of Kya’s things that includes Chase’s seashell necklace and a poem suggesting that Kya killed Chase; Tate destroys the evidence to protect her.

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Chapter Summaries