My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ten-year-old Kya Clark is left alone in a rundown shack in the backwoods marsh of North Carolina as every member of her family gradually leaves her on her own. Her mother and siblings were driven away one by one by their PTSD-suffering abusive drunken husband and father. The father ignores Kya for the most part (with one brief period that almost seemed redemptive) and leaves one day and never returns. Kya has grown up as a wild child, left to her own devices more than not, and manages to survive with her knowledge of the marsh and some not little ingenuity. She meets and grows close to a boy from the nearby town, who teaches her to read and write, and starts her on a path to success as a nature writer. That’s one half of the story.
The other half is the mystery of who killed the local football star and town golden boy. Chase appeared to have it all- successful parents who were almost town royalty, a career following in his father’s store, and the right wife. His future was set. And then his body turns up at the base of a rundown fire tower with no evidence or indication of what happened. The death is considered a murder and is the overarching mystery of the story.
Generally speaking, the book was okay, and I liked it. The writing, especially when it is descriptive of the marsh and wild country, is lyrical and lovely, almost poetic. It lent an almost ethereal quality to parts. Kya’s connection to and love for the marsh and its inhabitants is intimate and worldly at the same time. Those parts were excellent. Outside of the nature stuff, there’s a lot of extra explanation and info dump that is followed by exposition of the same. It got a bit tedious at times.
The problems? Well, for one, most of the characters are pretty much cookie-cutter tropes. Father had a horrible war experience, came home with PTSD, and used alcohol and violence to deal with it. Mother was long-suffering until she just couldn’t take it any more and abandoned her children to their fate with her husband. (We find out later that she suffered mentally from the guilt, but even that is kind of tropey) Most of the siblings are there and gone, and we don’t know or remember them any more than Kya does. The one brother who stays the longest still ends up deserting his sister to live with their father when she is ten. The tutor boy is noble and wants to help Kya become a closer to normal person, and isn’t interested in anything more. Until he is. And the dead guy is the Golden Child- spoiled, insincere, selfish, and thinks he can just take what he wants and lie his way through. Kya herself is at her best when she’s running free in the swamp, but put her in the middle of real life and she becomes, almost instantly, just another teenager, full of angsty anger and anguish.
The mystery is pretty easy to figure out, although the twists that get us to the point where it is finally revealed are mostly believable. The courtroom scenes are decently done and feel accurate. There’s a little bit of happily ever after to the ending, but, eh, nothing wrong with that.
I guess the biggest problem with it was all the hype. I think I went into it expecting more, and there just wasn’t any. It was a decent read that I finished in three days, and there were parts I really thought were beautifully written. Pick it up and ignore any expectations that all the glowing praise might give you, and you will probably enjoy it.
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