Last summer I spent a perfect couple of days lost in the lush world of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens. This book truly surprised me with how much I cared about the main character, and how deeply I surrendered to the marsh world. Kya’s strength and resilience and appreciation of nature carried me through the rest of the summer. This summer, in anticipation of the movie coming out in June 2022, I’m rereading the book, and I’ve rounded up several other novels that evoke similar feelings of hope, loneliness, and wonder in the natural world.
It’s not just the similarly structured title that make Jesmyn Ward’s novel a perfect read for fans of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING. In a small town on the rural Mississippi coast, twins Joshua and Christophe have been raised by their grandmother after their parents practically abandoned them. They graduate from high school, then scramble to make ends meet and support their grandmother—one boy winds up selling drugs, and the other finds backbreaking work as a dock laborer. With beautiful prose, the story delves into the realities of their rural coastal community—its racism, segregation, natural disasters—and the trials of poverty and confrontation that threaten to rip a family apart.
Kya basically is basically a marsh queen so of course I had to pair up CRAWDADS with Virginia Hartman’s THE MARSH QUEEN. I loved discovering mind-blowing facts about praying mantis’s and fireflies just as Kya learned them, and THE MARSH QUEEN teaches you about the natural world as well, but on a whole other level. We meet Loni Murrow after she’s already made a career for herself at the Smithsonian as a bird artist. When the death of her mother takes her back home to the Florida marshlands, she reacquaints herself with the land and her dark family history. Filled with lyrical prose and a Southern noir atmosphere, this one is the perfect companion read with WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.
For fans of Where the Crawdads Sing, this “marvelous debut” (Alice McDermott, National Book Award–winning author of The Ninth Hour) follows a Washington, DC, artist as she faces her past and the secrets held in the waters of Florida’s lush swamps and wetlands.
Loni Murrow is an accomplished bird artist at the Smithsonian who loves her job. But when she receives a call from her younger brother summoning her back home to help their obstinate mother recover after an accident, Loni’s neat, contained life in Washington, DC, is thrown into chaos, and she finds herself exactly where she does not want to be.
Going through her mother’s things, Loni uncovers scraps and snippets of a time in her life she would prefer to forget—a childhood marked by her father Boyd’s death by drowning and her mother Ruth’s persistent bad mood. When Loni comes across a single, cryptic note from a stranger—“There are some things I have to tell you about Boyd’s death”— she begins a dangerous quest to discover the truth, all the while struggling to reconnect with her mother and reconcile with her brother and his wife, who seem to thwart her at every turn. To make matters worse, she meets a man in Florida whose attractive simple charm threatens everything she’s worked toward.
Pulled between worlds—her professional accomplishments in Washington, and the small town of her childhood—Loni must decide whether to delve beneath the surface into murky half-truths and either avenge the past or bury it, once and for all.
The Marsh Queen explores what it means to be a daughter and how we protect the ones we love. Suzanne Feldman, author of Sisters of the Great War, writes that “fans of Delia Owens and Lauren Groff will find this a wonderful and absorbing read.”
When Kya’s siblings all left her one by one, I felt for her, but I also wondered what their narratives looked like, and found myself craving more of a southern family drama. This book delivers that in the backdrop of 1960s and ’70s Mississippi. Tallulah James is faced with dysfunctional, secretive parents more concerned about their reputations than their kids, and so she attempts to raise her younger twin brothers with the help of her older brother and grandmother. But when tensions boil over, she flees the town, leaving them—until she returns years later to confront the past and present. Like WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, this book sports unique characters and young children forced into premature adulthood, and it makes for a heart-wrenching, weighty summer read.
In many ways, Kya’s story is one of survival—both in nature and in solitude. For a unique and harrowing take on a survivalist story, check out Kristin Harmel’s latest WWII historical fiction, THE FOREST OF VANISHING STARS, publishing this July. As a child, Yona was kidnapped from her German parents, and was taught by her kidnapper to survive in the Polish forests. But when her kidnapper dies in 1941, Yona must fend for herself. She hunts, forages, finds shelter, and grows used to living in isolation, but when she discovers Jewish refugees hiding from the Nazis, she opens up her heart (at great risk to herself) and teaches them all she knows. Along the way she discovers some things herself about trust, friendship, and her own past. This is one heartbreaking narrative based on true stories and impeccable historical research.
The New York Times bestselling author of the “heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism” (People) The Book of Lost Names returns with an evocative coming-of-age World War II story about a young woman who uses her knowledge of the wilderness to help Jewish refugees escape the Nazis—until a secret from her past threatens everything.
After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.
Inspired by incredible true stories of survival against staggering odds, and suffused with the journey-from-the-wilderness elements that made Where the Crawdads Sing a worldwide phenomenon, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a heart-wrenching and suspenseful novel from the #1 internationally bestselling author whose writing has been hailed as “sweeping and magnificent” (Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author), “immersive and evocative” (Publishers Weekly), and “gripping” (Tampa Bay Times).
Kya was so different from a lot of other main characters, which was a huge reason why I liked her story and rooted for her. In THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP, two spunky girls decide to take it into their own hands to solve the disappearance of a neighbor in their rural British town in 1976. They go door-to-door and follow the clues to often hilarious, and heartwarming results. With an atmosphere of mystery, along with coming-of-age experiences, and a rural community where everyone has their own offbeat attitude, this book is a great read for fans of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING.
If you’re going to knock out one classic this summer, let it be this one. It’s got all the perfect ingredients—a remote area in Florida, vivid nature descriptions, and a coming-of-age story filled with self-reflection. In the 1870s, twelve-year-old Jody is the youngest of seven siblings (and the only surviving one), with parents who let him run wild. Living in the Florida backwoods, he and his family have had it rough, and they work hard to survive through storms, predators, and poverty. When Jody discovers a fawn, he takes care of it, sparking lessons in death, adulthood, innocence, and more. Pick up this Pulitzer Prize winner for a fully realized setting and characters you’ll care for tremendously.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
An instant bestseller when it was released in 1938, The Yearling is an enduring classic.
Set in the 1870s, this classic story of the Baxter family and their wild, hard, and satisfying life in remote central Florida has been beloved by readers of all ages for the last eighty years. After Jody’s pa kills a deer, Jody convinces his father they should bring the doe’s fawn home. Jody and his fawn are inseparable, but the day comes when Jody must choose between his deer and the family’s survival. A #1 bestseller for 23 consecutive weeks when it was first published, The Yearling perfectly captures the essence of childhood. It’s a glowing picture of a life refreshingly removed from modern patterns of living and is universal in its revelation of simple courageous people and the beliefs they must live by.
William Kent Krueger’s upcoming prequel to his Cork O’Connor series follows a young boy with as much heart, history, and personality as Kya, so you’re in for a ride. It starts off with the puzzle of a murder, as Cork doubts the main murder suspect did it, placing his opinions at odds with his sheriff father and the rest of the townspeople. In the summer of 1963, he sets out to prove them wrong and attain true justice for his murdered friend. This book comes out in August, so while you wait, you could check out Krueger’s beloved bestseller THIS TENDER LAND, which also holds a story as heartfelt and endearing as WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, but instead of one coming-of-age story it packs in four orphaned children in 1932 traveling along Minnesota’s Gilead River in a canoe in search of a new home. In all of Krueger’s books, nature sings and humans grow up and connect with one another across ages and cultures, so you could readily pick up any one of them for a good CRAWDADS comparison.
The author of the instant New York Times bestseller This Tender Land returns with a powerful prequel to his acclaimed Cork O’Connor series—a book about fathers and sons, long-simmering conflicts in a small Minnesota town, and the events that echo through youth and shape our lives forever.
Aurora is a small town nestled in the ancient forest alongside the shores of Minnesota’s Iron Lake. In the summer of 1963, it is the whole world to twelve-year-old Cork O’Connor, its rhythms as familiar as his own heartbeat. But when Cork stumbles upon the body of a man he revered hanging from a tree in an abandoned logging camp, it is the first in a series of events that will cause him to question everything he took for granted about his hometown, his family, and himself.
Cork’s father, Liam O’Connor, is Aurora’s sheriff and it is his job to confirm that the man’s death was the result of suicide, as all the evidence suggests. In the shadow of his father’s official investigation, Cork begins to look for answers on his own. Together, father and son face the ultimate test of choosing between what their heads tell them is true and what their hearts know is right.
In this masterful story of a young man and a town on the cusp of change, beloved novelist William Kent Krueger shows that some mysteries can be solved even as others surpass our understanding.
While it doesn’t take place in the marshland, CLAY GIRL is a lot like WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING because of its resilient young protagonist, Ari. You’ll find yourself on the edge of your book nook, rooting for her to live happily ever after. Similar to Kya, Ari’s curiosity of nature serves as a force of hope and power throughout the novel; her imaginary seahorse is always nearby, teaching her patience just by its presence. Forging through abusive and temporary homes, and countless traumatic events, Ari longs to return to her aunts’ house in Nova Scotia, the only place where she felt truly loved.
If you found yourself wishing that someone in the WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING community would just lend a hand to Kya, then you might be inclined to pick up MY KIND OF PEOPLE. It takes place on a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, so it has a similarly evocative small-town atmosphere to CRAWDADS, perfect for summer. Ten-year-old Sky starts out alone and with nobody to turn to after a tragic accident, but the townspeople of the island rally around her. This deeply emotional read dives into the lives of the adults who join in to care for this one young girl. You’ll be tearing up just thinking about it this summer, long after you finish the book.
From the author of The Salt House and This Is Home comes a profound novel about the power of community and a small town’s long-buried secrets as a group of New England islanders come together for a recently orphaned girl.
On Ichabod Island, a jagged strip of land thirteen miles off the coast of Massachusetts, ten-year-old Sky becomes an orphan for the second time after a tragic accident claims the lives of her adoptive parents.
Grieving the death of his best friends, Leo’s life is turned upside down when he finds himself the guardian of young Sky. Back on the island and struggling to balance his new responsibilities and his marriage to his husband, Leo is supported by a powerful community of neighbors, many of them harboring secrets of their own.
Maggie, who helps with Sky’s childcare, has hit a breaking point with her police chief husband, who becomes embroiled in a local scandal. Her best friend Agnes, the island busybody, invites Sky’s estranged grandmother to stay for the summer, straining already precarious relationships. Their neighbor Joe struggles with whether to tell all was not well in Sky’s house in the months leading up to the accident. And among them all is a mysterious woman, drawn to Ichabod to fulfill a dying wish.
Perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Leary, My Kind of People is a riveting, impassioned novel about the resilience of community and what connects us all in the face of tragedy.
And of course a reread of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is the perfect way to get into the summer reading spirit!
Photo credit: iStock / KeithBriley