The marshlands of coastal North Carolina are home to an exquisite natural world, and to “swamp people.” The story of “Marsh Girl,” Katherine Danielle Clark, aka Kya, is told in back-and-forth chapters, revealing her incredible bravery in surviving alone after abandonment by all of her family, and of the murder of local football star Chase Andrews. Is Kya his murderer? Or is she simply a reclusive, self-educated naturalist?
What I Loved
“Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.”
Every. Single. Word. This is a book that manages to SURPASS its hype–it is that good. Several reviews have compared it to the writing of Barbara Kingsolver–and that is true. This book is Poisonwood Bible great. Kya’s survival of her abandonment outshines that of Turtle in Kingsolver’s Bean Trees, bringing to mind an updated Understood Betsy–one that Oprah would admire (but without the sexual abuse so often found in Oprah’s book club picks).
“…[the] great blue heron is the color of gray mist reflecting in blue water. And like mist, she can fade into the backdrop, all of her disappearing except the concentric circles of her lock-and-load eyes. She is a patient, solitary hunter, standing alone as long as it takes to snatch her prey. Or, eyeing her catch, she will stride forward one slow step at a time, like a predacious bridesmaid. And yet, on rare occasions she hunts on the wing, darting and diving sharply, swordlike beak in the lead.”
I especially loved Kya’s natural world. The author captures the beauty of the marshland in language worthy of a classic naturalist like John Muir. She manages to show not only the physical beauty of the area but the beauty of Kya’s connection to her natural world. The way she knows the gulls, or, when she points out that “all grasses are flowers,” or when she pilots her boat by understanding the unseen world of currents and channels, as well as the seen world of bayous and estuaries, is truly magnificent.
“Her collections matured, categorized methodically by order, genus, and species; by age according to bone wear; by size in millimeters of feathers; or by the fragile hues of greens. The science and art entwined in each other’s strengths; the colors, the light, the species, the life; weaving a masterpiece of knowledge and beauty that filled every corner of her shack. Her world, She grew with them–the trunk of the vine–alone, but holding all the wonders together.”
“She touched the pages and remembered each shell and the story of finding it, where it lay on the beach, the season, the sunrise. A family album.”
Kya’s flight from the humiliation of public school and her subsequent world-class naturalist status, gained solely from observation and self-education, would make Charlotte Mason and every CM-homeschooler rejoice. Her meticulous collecting, labeling, mapping or drawing of the location a specimen was found, show how she “saved” herself and how she made the boundaries for herself that a child needs. I can’t stop thinking about how much I would love to see her collections if they were real.
I listened to the audiobook.
Not to be missed
Where the Crawdads Sing: A Novel by Delia Owens
If you enjoy novels about the natural world:
Remarkable Creatures: A Novel by Tracey Chevalier
Flight Behavior: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver