For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her.
But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world–until the unthinkable happens.
I’ve been waiting to read this since it was published in 2018; I could just never get my hands on a library copy until now. It has gotten rave reviews from everywhere and I was super excited to read it. However, while this was an okay book, I ended up not liking it nearly as much as I thought.
The book is not all bad, of course. It had me in the beginning, with Kya as a child. The story was told simplistically, which made sense when she was a kid. The marsh became its own character very early on, which I always love in a book. Owens captures the detail and beauty of the marsh and drops you right down in the middle of it.
She kept me engaged through Kya’s early adulthood, even through her first romance which I found really sweet, if a bit awkward. But once Kya hit adulthood, about halfway through the book, she started losing me a bit. The first problem was the murder plot. This novel kind of felt like two genres, romance and murder mystery, and here it didn’t quite work for me. The pacing felt a bit off after Chase Andrews got killed, and the dialogue at that point kind of went downhill. Writers get a lot of advice to show instead of tell, but Owens did a lot of telling via dialogue and it felt stilted and brought me out of the story a bit. There were also several things that I found too convenient, like Kya being able to both find and pay off the deed to her house in one afternoon.
I also thought that with so much of the story revolving around life in the marsh that there might be more of a plot around environmentalism and the townspeople wanting to develop the marsh. There were a few mentions of logging and new marinas here and there, but nothing major. Having businessmen want to develop Kya’s land could have been a cool metaphor for how Kya’s values differed from the town’s values, but it just wasn’t really a thing. I wish that the murder plot could have been replaced with something like this. With that change and an updated dialogue style, this could have been a really powerful story weaving together acceptance and environmentalism. As it was, it honestly ended up anticlimactic.
I did not hate this, for sure. I have read much worse books than this. I would try a sophomore novel by Delia Owens, especially given her knack for making the setting come alive. But I didn’t love this would give it a 3 out of 5.