This is hands-down one of the best stories I have read in recent years. It is original, evocative, and unexpectedly moving. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Sometime in the early 1950s, Kya Clark was born in the marshland bordering Barkley Cove on the North Carolina coastline. Her tiny home was cramped with siblings who lived amid the tension caused by her parents’ unhappy marriage. She has no friends, no formal education, and no one to watch out for her.
One by one Kya’s family members leave, until eventually just Kya and her father remain. Eventually he too disappears, abandoning the young child to her own fate. Kya’s naïve perseverance and then gradual awakening and acceptance are heartbreaking to read.
Determined to eke out a life for herself, Kya devotes her time and energy to understanding the natural world. She hunts, fishes, cooks, and learns to barter with a few local shopkeepers to take care of herself.
Owens’ knowledge of wildlife and her experience as a scientist add so much to Kya’s story. It is impossible not to picture the world the young girl inhabits and understand how she feels more at home in nature than she does in society.
By the time Kya becomes a teenager, her striking good looks and unusual living circumstances begin to attract attention, along with the nickname ‘Marsh Girl’, from the townspeople. She develops a friendship and eventually a loving relationship with a boy named Tate, but she also catches the eye of popular jock Chase Andrews.
Owens switches between Kya’s backstory and the mystery surrounding Chase’s death in 1969. Carefully, colourfully, and with great skill, Owens tells the story of how Kya ended up the prime suspect in the murder of Chase Andrews.