In Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya Changes Her Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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In Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya is the main character. But what was Kya’s early life like? How does Kya start to change her life?

Where the Crawdads Sing’s Kya is a girl that grows up totally alone in the marsh. When her family abandons her, Kya learns to fend for herself and eventually becomes an expert on the marsh. In Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya is the main character and tells her story.

Read more about Kya Clark in Where the Crawdads Sing and her early life.

Where the Crawdads Sing: Kya’s Early Life

Kya Clark in Where the Crawdads Sing has a difficult life. When Kya was just six years old, her mother Ma, walked out of the tiny shack Kya shared with her four siblings and parents, and Ma never came back. Kya’s father, Pa, was an abusive alcoholic, and over the next weeks, he would drive away all of Kya’s older siblings, including her beloved brother and mentor Jodie.  

Kya didn’t understand what made everyone leave or why they didn’t take her with them. Even though Pa was mean, he was all she had left, and she was desperate to make him stay. She took over the household duties—cleaning, doing the laundry, and cooking. For a few months, things were good for Kya and Pa. He appreciated how hard she worked to make a nice home, drank less often, and stayed home more. 

Kya was sure things would be different when her mother decided to return. But after a letter arrived in her mother’s handwriting, Pa turned back into the drunk monster he was. He stayed away from home more and more, until one day he never came back. Kya was on her own.

A New Way of Life

Kya Clark in Where the Crawdads Sing had gotten used to hiding in the overgrowth of the marsh for safety, just as Jodie had taught her. So when she heard the sounds of a car coming up the dirt lane to their shack, that’s exactly what she did. From the brush, Kya watched a man and woman step out of the car and walk up the steps to the porch. 

The woman called through the screen door, announcing she was there to take Kya to school. Kya was desperate to learn to read and find out what came after twenty-nine, but she was afraid of other kids. But when the woman, Mrs. Culpepper, yelled that Kya could get a hot lunch, Kya’s hunger won out. She stepped forward and allowed herself to be taken to school. 

Kya was placed in the second grade despite never attending a day of school in her life because they couldn’t find her birth certificate. The classroom held twelve other students, most of them dressed in clean clothes and shoes, and Kya had never seen so many people in one room before. She took a seat in the back of the class, barefoot and in a soiled dress. 

When the teacher asked Kya to spell “dog,” she searched her mind for the lessons Ma and Jodie had given her about letters. She wavered and blurted out “G-O-D,” causing the rest of the class to howl with laughter. Kya from Where the Crawdads Sing was humiliated, and learned a lesson about being around other people.

Where the Crawdads Sing’s Kya is Ostracized

When it was time for lunch, the smell of chicken pie, with its warm flaky crust and thick gravy, made Kya’s mouth water. She couldn’t believe the amount of food the lunch workers had put on her tray: a heaping mound of pie, peas, a yeast roll, banana pudding, and a carton of milk. 

The cafeteria was full of all the kids from grades first through twelfth, and everybody had someone to sit with. Kya, avoiding the other faces, especially those of Chase Andrews and his friends, sat at an empty table by herself. At one point, a group of girls wearing blossoming skirts walked in her direction, and Kya braced in anticipation of their company. But the girls bounced past, ignoring her like everyone else

Despite her gut-wrenching hunger, Kya was too nervous to eat, so she drank the milk and shoved the rest of the pie in the carton. She kept her mouth shut the rest of the day, not wanting to give the other kids more ammunition to make fun of her, but it didn’t matter. After school, as the bus drove down the ruddy road to the marsh, the kids, including the girls from lunch (who she named Tallskinnyblonde and Roundchubbycheeks), teased Kya, calling her swamp rat. Where the Crawdads Sing‘s Kya was devastated.

Kya ran the three miles from the bus stop to the shack and went straight to the beach. With tears streaming down her face, she fed the swirling and diving birds the chicken pie from lunch. The birds were her only friends, and she wished she could stay with them forever. 

Mrs. Culpepper was back at the shack two days later searching for Kya. This time, Kya created decoy tracks in the mud and stayed out of sight. Every few days or so, the car would bound down the lane, and the search for Kya would ensue. But after a few weeks, Mrs. Culpepper stopped coming. Kya never went back to school. 

Where the Crawdads Sing’s Kya Fends for Herself

Kya from Where the Crawdads Sing still hoped her mother would return. Weeks then months passed, and each morning, Kya still woke hoping to find Ma making breakfast. Pa stayed out of the house more and more, staying away for a week or more at a time. Without money or food, Kya ate Crisco slathered on soda crackers for nourishment. With no one around to love her, Kya turned to the land—the fields and lagoons of the marsh― for comfort. The land wouldn’t leave her, and she would never leave it. 

When Kya came upon an old stump in the clearing, she stopped. Sticking straight up from one of the stump veins was a black feather. To the untrained eye, the feather looked like an ordinary crow’s feather, but to Kya, who’d become an expert on marsh wildlife from years of observation, it was a feather from the eyebrow of a great blue heron, a rare find for even the most ardent collector. 

Another week passed before Kya found another feather in the stump. This time, the feather, long and striped, was a tail feather from a wild turkey, one of Kya’s favorite birds. She smiled and took the feather home, happy the game this boy was playing with her was still on. 

Kya’s Prospects for the Future

Kya figured she would have to reciprocate if the game were to continue. The day after finding the turkey feather, she laid a tail feather from a baby bald eagle on the stump and anchored it with a rock. That night, she lay in bed excited about the boy finding her feather. Everyone in her life had abandoned her, but this boy was intentionally trying to make contact. She assumed he was an alright boy. No one with this much knowledge or appreciation for birds could be bad. Kya from Where the Crawdads Sing believed she might have a friend for the first time.

Reinvigorated by the prospects of actual human contact, Kya cleaned the entire shack from top to bottom. As well as the shack, she cleaned herself up. In Ma’s drawer, she found a pair of scissors. Her hair hadn’t been cut since before Ma left seven years earlier. It was a long unruly tide of black hair down her back. She took the scissors and cut it to her shoulders. Then, she scrubbed the dirt from her hands and face and brushed her hair until it was silky. 

When Kya went back to the stump, she saw not just another rare feather, but a milk carton containing vegetable seeds, a spark plug for her boat, and a note she couldn’t read. The boy had upped his ante, and she knew she had to do the same. Kya went home and grabbed a beautiful swan feather, but when she went by the stump to leave it, she was surprised to find the boy waiting against a tree. 

At once, she recognized the boy as Tate, even aged as he was at eighteen years old. His golden curls were longer, his face tan and handsome. He was staring at her with bronze and green eyes, watching like a heron gazing at its prey. Kya felt the urge to run, but Tate called to her and told her not to be afraid. He couldn’t help but be taken aback by the sight of her. She had grown into a striking young woman. 

Not only Tate’s words, but also a warm sensation inside kept Kya from running. She held out the swan feather, her movements slow. With equally slow movements, so as not to startle her, Tate took the feather. They stood in awkward silence for a long moment before Kya finally admitted she couldn’t read his note. Before he left, Tate said he would teach her how to read. In Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya finally felt hopeful.

In Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya Changes Her Life

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Delia Owens's "Where the Crawdads Sing" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Where the Crawdads Sing summary:

  • How Kya Clark's abandonment as a child affected her through her entire life
  • How Kya discovered love despite steep obstacles
  • The murder trial that embroiled Kya's town, and the ultimate truth behind the murder

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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