Where the Crawdads Choke

Book to movie review of ‘‘Where the Crawdads Sing’’


Photo by Eric Charbonneau

The cast of “Where the Crawdads Sing” attends a LA junket photo call.

The release of the movie adaptation of Delia Owens’ “Where the Crawdads Sing” novel  has come with a lot to unpackage. From the mixed reviews of the film to Owens herself being charged for questioning concerning a real life murder, one cannot help but be enthralled by the story of “Where the Crawdads Sing.” 

After presenting my comparison and review of both the book and the movie, I’ll delve deeper into the Zambian murder case that holds many parallels to Owens’ book. There will be multiple spoilers in this, so if you haven’t read or watched the story but plan to, I advise you to read this afterward.

Statistically speaking, the novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” was a surprising success. It was Owens’ first published work of fiction and it now has sold over 15 million copies. It has spent 168 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and was even featured on Reese Witherspoon’s book club which later led to its movie adaptation. 

The book by itself was a popular romantic drama hit that could be found in every book store or on every middle aged woman’s night stand. I read the novel this past summer in preparation for the movie and while I would not claim it was anything spectacular, I could see why so much of the world was in love with the main character, Kya.

Kya is the driving force of this character based novel. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in North Carolna, Kya was abandoned at the age of 10 to live in the marshes. Her father was an alcoholic and abused her, her siblings and her mother. Once her mother left, the children followed all except Kya. She stayed with her father alone for a short period until he left as well. Because of her isolation and location in the marshes on the outside of town, Kya becomes the town’s outcast and is deemed the Marsh Girl. 

In spite of this, Kya meets Tate Walker. A kind hearted boy who teaches her how to read and write, and they eventually fall in love. However, Tate leaves for college and ends up abandoning Kya as well due to his belief that she would not be able to fit in with the outside world. This girl cannot catch a break and her need for human interaction and love leads her to get involved with Chase Andrews. Chase is the town’s golden boy with a dark side that entails cheating and aggressive impulses. 

He’s embarrassed of his relationship with Kya, but continues to see her in secret. All in all, the story is mainly the love triangle between these three characters and Kya’s overarching journey of discovering herself.

The novel and the movie open up with the discovery of Chase Andrews’ death. Ruled as foul play, Kya becomes the main suspect for the crime because of her known involvement with Chase and the town’s jaundiced view of her. Both forms of entertainment alternate through time, flipping from the court case to the events that led up to the murder until the two sequences come together. Kya is acquitted, but by the end of the story you discover that she did kill Chase. There are some notable differences, however, in how these events are depicted in the novel compared to the film. 

Overall, the film is sped up at a considerable speed. This is understandable and can be found in most book-to-movie adaptations. The downside of this, though, is that movie goers do not get the full story of Kya’s family and the problems that consequently affected Kya. The movie displays the fall of the family in a very short montage of scenes, while the book goes into detail of Kya’s abandonment and even the history of how her parents met. 

The book also mentions her mother leaving multiple times to show the full impact this had on Kya. In the movie, it’s never mentioned or thought of unless Kya is asked by other characters. 

Additionally, the relationship between Kya and Tate is accelerated. Whole scenes are deleted and left out of the film, including the scene where Kya starts her period for the first time in the presence of Tate. 

This added more development to their relationship and further showed the help that Tate offered to Kya in some of her most vulnerable moments. While the movie was able to express their chemistry, I cannot help but feel that the book did a considerably better job at expressing the complexity of their relationship and the love that they felt for each other. 

What surprised me the most was the movie’s complete deletion of Amanda Hamilton. In the novel, the reader is continuously met with poems written by Amanda Hamilton that help show what Kya is thinking and feeling. 

Later, you find out that Hamilton was a pseudonym for Kya the entire time. In my mind, this was extremely important because it gave insight into who Kya was as a person and is even used at the end of the novel to reveal that Kya really did murder Chase.

Ultimately, my preference when it comes to the book versus the movie is the book. It holds more detail and development toward the story. The movie somehow took the murder case, family drama, sex and turned it into a lukewarm love story. Rotten Tomatoes apparently agrees with me and gave the movie a meager 33%. To be completely honest, I wasn’t entirely in love with the novel either, but after learning more about Delia Owens’ past I have a newfound interest in what this story really means.

Delia Owens, her husband, and her step son were all in Zambia when a poacher was shot and killed. Owens’ husband was known for his risky take against poachers and all three are up for questioning concerning the case. Owens’ novel cannot help but hold multiple parallels with this case. Kya was an introverted wildlife conservatist that Owens has openly identified  with, but Kya was also suspected for a murder that she actually committed. Owens has been asked for a comment on this, but declines every time or reports that she was not involved and there was never even a case. 

Zambian officials argue otherwise, saying the case is still open and while they don’t suspect Owens and her family, they do think they are key witnesses that need to be questioned. The charge has put a slight blight on Owens work, but I wasn’t even aware of it until I did some digging. I’m thoroughly intrigued and I hope that more of an investigation can be done to reveal Owens and her family’s true involvement.

Given everything with the novel and movie, as well as everything around the author, “Where the Crawdads Sing” was better in its original novel form. I do have to praise Daisy Edgar Jones’ performance; it was one of the main reasons I wanted to watch the movie in the first place and it was definitely what saved the movie from completely nosediving.