Do you love nature writing so vivid that it can transport you right into an environment so you can see it, hear it, and smell it in your mind? Do you enjoy getting immersed in a suspenseful who-done-it? Is a soulful love story your thing?

If your answer is yes to any of these questions, “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens is what you should read next. This genre-bending novel is the 2020 selection for Galveston Reads, and over the next few weeks you may enjoy participating in special programs pertaining to this book that will be going on around town (for schedule of events, visit galvestonreads.org).

Kya grows up in an old fishing shack in the marshes surrounding a small town in coastal North Carolina. The youngest of five children, she’s just 7 when their mother abandons the family to escape from the abusive rages of her drinking, gambling husband. One by one, the older siblings, “almost grown” by then, drift away as well. Kya understands why they left, just not “why nobody took me with them.” By the time she’s 11, her father disappears as well.

A single day in school is traumatic — she’s bullied and ridiculed by the village children. From there on out, she avoids town, spending her solitary days in the marsh where the birds are better company. She becomes a keen observer of animal behavior, its beauty but also its cruelty. Spending her days fishing and harvesting other edibles for survival, she also collects shells, feathers and other specimens of marsh life. She cannot read or write but learns how to draw the most interesting things she sees on the back of old paper bags from the grocery store. A compassionate black couple help her survive, the only people she learns to trust.

By the time she’s 14, an older boy from town befriends her. They connect over their shared love of marsh life. He’s an aspiring ecologist and is fascinated by the girl, so knowledgeable despite her illiteracy, and teaches her to read and write. But then he’s off to college, seemingly forgetting her. Once she’s fully grown, another town boy comes to court her. To win a bet? For pure sport? Reluctantly, Kya begins to open up, imagines a future less solitary, until he cruelly betrays her. What happens next is a sequence of events that will keep you turning the pages to know how it will all end, rooting for Kya’s survival.

This book is the first work of fiction of an accomplished nature journalist. Beautifully written with well-developed characters, both language and storyline will grab you, as it did millions of other readers who have made this unlikely first novel the most sold book of 2019.

Hermi Woodward is a retired university administrator and member of the Galveston Reads Selection Committee.

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