This is a tale of a young girl – Catherine “Kya” Clark – who is abandoned by her mother, brother, and father to life in a marshy North Carolina cabin. From the age of six she has to learn to fend for herself after her mother left. Her father – a terrible, violent, often absent man – left a few years later. Always alone, she developed abilities and an inner strength, but her “differentness” was a barrier between her and society. Delia Owens poignantly examines the tension between loneliness and the desire for connection.
As a young teenager she slowly establishes a bond with Tate who teaches Kya to read.
“Her impulse, as always, was to run. But there was another sensation. A fullness she hadn’t felt for years. As if something warm had been poured inside her heart.” [p 98]
And then when Kate doesn’t come back for a while, the lonesomeness comes back:
“…loneliness had become a natural appendage to Kya, like an arm. Now it grew roots inside her and pressed against her chest.” [p 100]
Mixed metaphor aside this is a very descriptive passage.
Owens other strength is her description of nature. The derivation of the title is nice. She has won awards for her non-fiction nature writing and it shows here.
“AUTUMN WAS COMING; the evergreens might not have noticed, but the sycamores did. They flashed thousands of golden leaves across slate-gray skies.” [p 122]
“The shack sat back from the palmettos, which sprawled across sand flats to a necklace of green lagoons and, in the distance, all the marsh beyond. Miles of blade-grass so tough it grew in salt water, interrupted only by trees so bent they wore the shape of the wind. Oak forests bunched around the other sides of the shack and sheltered the closest lagoon, its surface so rich in life it churned, Salt air and gull-song drifted through the trees from the sea.” [p 7]
I love that description of the trees bent by the wind.
While we know that after mating the female praying mantis kills the male, Owens’ description is deliciously detailed, gross, and riveting. These rich descriptions paint a beautiful picture of Kya’s world.
I also like the structure of the novel where we jump between Kya’s early life and the investigation of a death. It doesn’t take long to realize she will be a suspect – it’s novel afterall; why else would the death be mentioned – and the story of her life leads up to the accusation when the two paths join.
There is a map at the front of the book; I wish I would have realized that at the beginning. In addition to being helpful, it shows the detail Delia Owens included. I didn’t picture the Fire Tower where it was.
Could a six year old really survive like that? Kya’s language and use of idioms don’t ring true given that her major exposure to language is through Tate’s textbooks. Talking with my attorney son about the legal process, parts of the story are just flat wrong. But like my son says, if you wrote about it realistically, you’d have a terrible story Finally, some of the ending – which I don’t want to give away – is a little too perfect.
However, the story is so compelling and beautifully written that I gladly employed Coleridge’s “willing suspense of disbelief”. I highly recommend this book – and I’m not alone: it’s number 1 on the Amazon charts on the week I wrote this, and has a full 5 stars with over 18,000 reviews. It’s a perfect summer read.
Pick it up.