This was a fun one. After finishing, I totally understand why a lot of people couldn’t stand it and DNF’ed, but I just took it at face value and enjoyed it for the light, easy read that it was. Is Kya’s situation unrealistic? Absolutely. Are there excessive descriptions of nature alongside weak dialogue and flat characters? Definitely. But there was also enough heart in the story itself that I could suspend my disbelief and just appreciate the beauty of the marsh.
There were a lot of plot points that I found highly unrealistic. For one, even if it’s the 1950s-1960s, it seems highly unlikely an entire town would just knowingly let a small girl grow up in the marshland alone. Even though Kya pretends her family is still around and that it’s her who runs all the errands in town, it’s clear all the townspeople are aware her parents are gone. A social services worker did briefly make an appearance, as if Owens knew she had to acknowledge reality and so half-heartedly wrote him in, but after that there was no one who cared about her welfare for years until Tate came along. Even Jumpin’, who she thinks of as a father figure and is the closest friend she has in town, makes no attempt to rescue her in from her shack in the marshes. He and Mabel are wonderfully kind people who give her spare clothes and supplies when possible, but wouldn’t it have helped her much more if they’d brought her to town and socialized her instead?
Another minor issue was how Kya turned out to be a botanical genius. Of course she’d have an incredible wealth of knowledge from living amidst nature for so long, but the fact that she goes from not knowing how to read at age 14 to devouring college textbooks on biology and chemistry just a few years later, and then going on to publish multiple books on the regional flora and fauna, does make you pause a bit. And naturally, she’s stunning and exotic-looking to boot. Manic pixie dream girl alert!
There was so much beautiful scenery that sometimes I felt like I was in the marshes myself. I saw some critiques of the book that said there were way too many descriptive nature passages, but I had no issue with that. Delia Owens is first and foremost a nonfiction nature writer (she wrote Cry of the Kalahari, which has been on my TBR for ages and I was shocked to find out the author was one and the same), and she’s clearly excellent at it. Bring on all the nature imagery! How many books out there are set in swampland and achieve even modest popularity? The setting was refreshing and I loved being put into this particular time and place.
Although he wasn’t very developed, Tate was still a dreamboat, ha. Kind-hearted, intelligent, scientific, worldly enough to appreciate nature and poetry – pretty much covers what I look for in a guy 😉
On the ending: it wasn’t very surprising to me. (spoilers) It was fairly clear that Kya was behind the murder, given the missing shell necklace and extremely careful planning. Who else would be able to cover her tracks so thoroughly and know the patterns of the riptides so well other than the woman who’d lived in the marsh her entire life? The ending was abrupt, but it sufficiently wrapped up the story. If there’s one thing I appreciate, it’s authors who know when to end their books instead of drawing it out longer than it needs to be.
(Art from Suzanne Steinberg)