Where the Crawdads Sing: the book ending, explained

Where the Crawdads Sing

Released in 2018, Owens’ fictional debut, Where the Crawdads Sing is a gripping murder mystery novel. Recently adapted to film and popular again, let’s see how it ends.

The article contains spoilers.

Who is the Marsh Girl and where did she live?

Set in two different converging timelines in North Carolina, 1952 and 1969, the story is about Kya Clark’s survival and also reflects the deep prejudices that ran in societies during that time.

The 1952 timeline is told by Kya, living in a shack far away from town. Her Ma leaves the family one day, never returning. The 5-year-old abandoned girl isn’t able to make sense and pines for her. Gradually, all her siblings leave too.

She is alone with her drunkard Pa who abused his family. Kya learns survival from the lagoon and by observing the nature. Slowly she learns to cook and do chores around the house. Eventually, at around the age of 7-8, he doesn’t come back too, leaving her alone in the vast wilderness.

The criminal investigation in 1969

In 1969, Chase Andrews’ body is discovered in a swamp near the Fire Tower and an investigation is going on. No evidence has been found, not fingerprints, footprints or anything. He was a well-known guy.

Marsh Girl is gossiped in a diner because there have been rumors of their affair. Nothing conclusive. That is until a slew of information pours in from directions. Chase’s mother says that he had a shell necklace which he wore for 4 years, not retrieved after his death.

Police discovers red wool fibers in Chase’s jacket. Several others come in to say that they’d seen Kya in relation to the crime, one way or another. They issue a search warrant against Kya, in who’s shack they find a red wool cap.

Kya’s growing up, loneliness and few friends

A malnourished, abandoned and broke Kya takes fate in her hands and starts selling mussels to her Pa’s friend, Jumpin’ for supplies. She escapes the officers and doesn’t go to school. Tate, Jodie’s friend, also becomes her friend. He teaches her how to read and write, giving her his books. Soon, aged 14 and 18, they develop feelings.

But Tate has to leave for university and he promises her that he will come back soon. He doesn’t. He chickens out and leaves her without a goodbye, breaking her heart. This loneliness and a growing need for companionship drives her and Chase together.

Chase and Kya’s relationship

After Tate leaves her, she continues studying, soon becoming educated enough to label her collection of shells, feathers and other stuff which has grown vastly from a hobby. She can fully read advanced, technical books. That’s around the time she meets Chase.

Chase charms and romances Kya. After several months pass, with the dreams of marriage, a life together, Kya finally gives in to his advances. Their affair goes on for two years until Kya finds a newspaper clipping about Chase’s engagement and breaks it off with him, alone again.

Tate, now a research biologist, has moved near town and asks Kya forgiveness for leaving her. He sees Kya’s collection and suggests she give it to be published, as a never before highly detailed encyclopedia about marsh specimens. She reluctantly agrees and it changes her life.

It’s a great success, giving Kya $2000 in advance and consistent royalty checks. She transforms the shack from the inside, but leaves the kitchen and the outside as before. She starts on another book about birds, and her friendship with Tate is again rekindled.

The case and the verdict

The timelines intertwine highly during the end. Kya is arrested for murder and is set for trial, even with an alibi. The jurors are the town people and Kya thinks they are already prejudiced against her.

Kya’s lawyer is well respected, experienced. The prosecutor plans to use every theoretical evidence against her. Kya’s defense is strong but refuted. Surprisingly, the verdict is decided within 4 hours. She is acquitted. Her closest leap with joy and unbelievable relief.

She and Tate restart their relationship, now more mature. She never wanders in the town. She’s secured a deed to protect her area from redevelopment. Aged 64, she silently passes away while in her boat. Her funeral is remarkable. Most of the town has come to pay respects.

The ending and a startling discovery

One day Tate discovers something unusual. A hidden place in the kitchen, which holds several letters. Poems, in her handwriting. Her favorites by Amanda Hamilton. Kya’s poems. One poem at the top is strikingly an account of what seems to have happened with Chase. It sounds like she killed him.

Tate finds the shell necklace from the box too, confirming his doubt. He destroys all her poems, the rawhide of the necklace and keeps throws the shell in the ocean. Going back to his work.

What’s in the ending and what others say?

The ending is surprising, but not ambiguous. What seems to have been dismissed in the court, all the inconclusive evidences, had actually been true. Kya had indeed murdered Chase. She survived the odds, got to Chase for his abuse with an intricately planned, almost unbelievable murder and outwit the town. She became a legend.

In an interview with Amazon, Delia Owns says that a lot of her was reflected in Kya, especially the loneliness. However, she believes a lot of Kya is in all of us too. The book was inspired by her works, observations, education in zoology and animal behavior. About the plot, she says,

”I came up with the ending and then I went back to the beginning. I say I made up things as I went along, but that’s what you do when you write a novel. I didn’t have a detailed outline.”