This book has been on the top of every list since it came out at the end of August last year. It’s received extremely high praise, and I’ve been on the list to loan this book from the library for about 30 weeks.
At first glance, this isn’t my type of book. I’m not usually into historical fiction, the cover screamed that it would be a somewhat slow-paced read, and I couldn’t figure out a time where I would be in the mood to try it. But the description hinted at a mystery, and I just can’t resist a good mystery.
I’m so glad that I read this book. It was heartbreaking, and beautiful, and dark, and scientific, and showed me that I can love historical fiction, I just have to find the ones right for me.
The novel is told in two timelines, one starting in 1952, following Kya, a young woman who is slowly abandoned by her Mother, siblings, and Father until she is living alone at the age of seven in a shack at the edge of a swamp in North Carolina. She learns to take care of herself, never going to school, and dodging any police or social services who come to try and take her away.
Kya is locally known as a bit of an urban legend, the Marsh Girl. The town believes she’s dirty, crazed, and won’t go near her, or help her for that matter. Kya eventually makes some friends, Tate, a boy a few years older than her who teaches her to read, write, and some basic math, and eventually a boy named Chase. At some point though, everyone seems to leave Kya. Though she’s a bit immature as a character from the amount of time spent alone, there’s a maturity to her actions and to her love of nature that’s really beautiful to read about.
In 1969, Chase is found dead and the local police force (and town) begin to suspect that Kya had something to do with it. The investigation is very one-sided, and the town seems more hellbent on pinning the death as a murder than in finding out the truth about what happened to him.
This book hurt to read. It was heavy and sometimes hard to get through, but the scientific aspects were a good way to pull the reader out of the hard-hitting plot. Delia Owens love of nature and animals definitely came through the page, and I wasn’t surprised at all to find that she had spent a good amount of time studying in Africa. Her fondness of the nature in the south is just as present in this book, and it quietly shows the importance of marshland to the reader, not just to those Kya interacts with in the book.
I would definitely recommend the audiobook. I listened to about half of the book this way, and it was a great way to get some of the pronunciations and slang that I was unfamiliar with.
I’m in awe that this is Delia Owens’ debut. I can’t wait to see what else she writes, and to also check out some of her non-fiction work.