Delia Owens has written a beautiful book, very earthly and natural. If the reader can suspend disbelief, the story of a child raising herself alone in the marshes of a southern state is very engrossing. After her mother and older siblings abandon Kya, and her negligent father finally leaves, the seven year old girl manages to live alone, catch or find her own food, earn money, and avoid the clutches of town officials.
Unbeknownst to Kia and the reader, she has friends. A few townspeople are secretly on her side. Her brother’s friend, Tate, watches over her, gives useful small gifts, and then comes closer to teach her to read. He falls in love with her, but once they are older he discovers the outside world — a place she couldn’t belong. He abandons her too.
Years later, she has grown to a beautiful woman, has read every book given her, and has become a renown naturalist. She is also emotionally wounded. She attracts the attentions of the most popular guy in town, Chase, who decides he must have her. Because she is an outcast and ridiculed as trash, he hides his relationship with her. Her heart is broken when she reads in the newspaper of his marriage to a town girl. She rejects his further advances, angering him. He later thrusts himself upon her, beating her, just like her father beat her mother. She finally understands why her mother fled.
When Chase ends up dead, she is the lone suspect in his accidental death. The investigation and trial are the most suspenseful parts of the story. Early on, I knew his death was in retaliation for his relationship with her, but who did it? Her brother, the war veteran who came to find her? Tate, the man who loves her. Jumpin’ the old storekeeper who protected her like a father. The snotty woman Chase married? Or Kya herself?
I guessed before the end, but remained interested in finding out how it would be revealed.
It was a pleasure to read this story with its deep plunge into the natural world of the marsh.