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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Have you seen the 2022 film Where the Crawdads Sing? How does the film differ from the book it’s based on?
In 2018, Delia Owens released her debut novel Where the Crawdads Sing, which is about a young girl named Kya who grows up in the marsh of North Carolina and is caught in a murder investigation. In 2022, a film adaptation starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and produced by Reese Witherspoon was released.
Check out the key differences between Delia Owens’ book and the film adaptation below.
The Film Is Told Out of Chronological Order
The book is told from a linear standpoint in two parts: “The Marsh” and “The Swamp.” The beginning of the novel depicts Kya’s childhood in 1952 as her mother and older siblings all eventually leave due to their father’s abusive nature. Kya is left alone with her father until he leaves too. She has to fend for herself in the marsh and eventually meets people who help her along the way. After she becomes more accustomed to life in the town, she’s charged with the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Chase Andrews.
The film takes a non-linear approach to the story. Whereas in the book Kya doesn’t get arrested until much later in the story, the film’s opening scene is of Kya’s arrest. From there, Kya narrates well-timed, but choppy flashbacks of her growing up in the marsh until her arrest. The only issue with this storytelling tool is that the film’s tone and genre almost change completely. Opening the movie with Kya’s arrest makes it more of a murder mystery film than the coming-of-age story the book was. The audience is trying to figure out if Kya is capable of murder the entire time instead of watching a young girl struggle to provide for herself. In addition, most of Kya’s childhood is excluded from the film—what makes up several chapters of the book is just 20 minutes of the movie.
Kya’s First Period Is Cut Completely
An important scene in the book is when Kya gets her first period, but doesn’t realize what’s happening. Given that Kya’s mother abandoned her family (and her father is neglectful of Kya), nobody teaches her about her body and what a period is. When Kya gets her first period, she believes it’s food poisoning or the runs and rests in her boat, thinking it will go away soon. Her first boyfriend, Tate, greets her on the boat and tells her she’s having her period. She goes to Mabel, Kya’s mother figure, who helps her understand puberty and her body. Mabel also gives Kya a bra and Tate gives Kya a biology textbook.
This scene is cut completely from the film. It makes sense to cut it for the sake of time, but it’s also a small detail that shows how essential education and good parenting are to children. The film still has this discussion by showing how embarrassed Kya is about being illiterate, but the book’s inclusion of her first period makes her feel more comfortable with Tate and Mabel.
Chase’s Engagement Reveal Is More Dramatic
When Tate leaves for college, he promises he’ll return to visit her. However, he never does. Kya is devastated but starts a romantic relationship with the former high school quarterback, Chase. Their relationship is unsatisfying and sometimes aggressive, but Kya stays with him. Despite promising marriage, Chase doesn’t introduce Kya to his parents or friends, presumably because he doesn’t want to be seen with the “Marsh Girl.”
When Tate returns, he warns Kya that Chase is seeing another woman but she brushes it off. Sure enough, she sees Chase and Pearl’s engagement announcement in the newspaper. The film dramatizes this reveal to make it much more shocking. Kya runs into Chase, Pearl, and their friends at the grocery store. Pearl flashes off her ring to Kya, revealing that they’re engaged.
Just like in the book, Chase confronts Kya at her home later and attempts to rape her until she hits him in the face with a rock. She yells at him that she’s going to kill him, which is overheard by two men. The threat will be used as the primary evidence against her in the murder trial.
Amanda Hamilton Doesn’t Exist
In the book, Amanda Hamilton is a renowned poet that Kya admires. However, no one knows anything about her. In fact, no one’s ever seen her before. But her poetry is a big part of Kya’s life. In times of emotional distress, Kya would recite Amanda’s poetry to soothe her. One instance is after discovering Chase’s engagement with Pearl. Reciting Amanda’s poetry helped calm Kya down. Amanda Hamilton is so important that her legacy provides insight into the twist ending.
Amanda Hamilton isn’t mentioned at all in the movie. Poetry isn’t even important to Kya or Tate. Kya is more interested in drawing wildlife and has no interest in creative writing. The absence of Amanda Hamilton underestimates the gravity of Tate’s revelation in the end, and Kya never relies on Amanda’s poetry for comfort when she is alone or disappointed.
The Ending’s Twist Is Different
After Kya’s death at the end of the book, Tate finds a poem written by Amanda Hamilton underneath the floorboards. The poem is written in Kya’s handwriting and is about female fireflies killing their mates. He also finds the shell necklace Chase wore before he was murdered. Tate reads this as Kya’s murder confession, putting together that Amanda Hamilton is Kya.
Taking Amanda Hamilton out of the equation, the movie’s twist ending is revealed in a slightly different way. Kya still dies in the end, and Tate does go searching the floorboards, but he only finds Chase’s shell necklace. Instead of the poem, he finds a drawing of himself, Kya, and Chase. It’s more in line with the film Kya’s fascination with art rather than writing in the movie. But just like in the book, Tate vows to keep Kya’s secret and gets rid of the shell necklace.
Do These Changes Matter?
Despite these changes, the Where the Crawdads Sing film does stay relatively true to the book. The overall story and sentiment are still the same, but the movie does dramatically change the structure and excludes key parts of Kya’s upbringing. Nonetheless, it deals with the book’s sensitive topics of abuse and rape carefully and is an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. The film may have received criticism for its incoherent tone and pacing, but fans of the book might appreciate how faithful it is to the book’s text.
Have you read the book and seen the movie? If so, how did you feel about the adaptation? Leave in the comments below your thoughts on the changes.
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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