The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
Sometimes a book comes along that captivates the world. Stories which pull in readers regardless of their preferred genre and convince those haven't picked up a book in ages to start reading again. To libraries, books like these are gifts, as they encourage a love of reading both continued and rediscovered. Delia Owens' Where the Crawdads Sing is truly one of these books.
Crawdads wasn't a book I would normally pick up. A friend, knowing that I do love a story featuring an atmospheric green landscape (think rainforests, swamps, marshes), recommended I read it - and I'm so glad that I did.
Since finishing the book, I've scoured the internet looking for a replica to fill the Crawdads void. In my opinion, a lot of the lists miss the mark; I mean, a male protagonist recommendation when one of its most important points is female strength and resilience? As a result, I've put together my own read-alikes - breaking it down into pivotal aspects of the novel.
Closest Overall Read-Alikes
For me, Crawdads is a love letter to the American marshlands. I wasn't surprised then to learn that the author, Delia Owens, is a zoologist and nature writer by trade. If you enjoyed this aspect of the novel, I encourage you to read Owens' bio on her website. You'll fall in love with the story all over again for her personal connection to it.
Both of the books below, as well as several others mentioned in this blog, take place in a wild, natural setting that serves as both a lush backdrop as well as a character within the story.
This is the book I found listed on several Crawdads read-alike lists that to me, appears to check off most of the boxes. I'll be starting this one soon, but here is the description:
Like Kya, Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, Turtle roams the woods along northern California, making its creeks, tide pools and rocky islands her hiding grounds. While her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous. She has grown up isolated since the death of her mother and in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father. Then Turtle meets Jacob, who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house and looks at her as if she is the sunrise. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and love, she starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. With Turtle's physical and emotional courage, the reader watches as she struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.
I used NoveList to search for books set in similar environments and this was the first one that came up. It was a win! Set in the Amazon Rainforest, nature is a large part of the story as it is in Crawdads. It also features a female protagonist who experiences isolation much like Kya. Origin centers on Pia, who was created by scientists to be the first immortal human. Though surrounded by many others, she is utterly alone, as she is the only one of her kind. She rejects the path set out for her by others and forges her own (better) way, finding trustworthy people to help her along the way. This too reminded me of Kya and how she met characters like Jumpin' and Mabel. Also like Kya, Pia falls in love with someone from a completely different world than that of her own and their relationship is a catalyst for her to make major life changes that otherwise, she might not have made (as Kya does with Tate's encouragement).
The Complicated Family Aspects
Crawdads opens by introducing readers to Kya's dysfunctional family, whose actions form the trajectory for her entire life. There are of course many books which touch on dysfunctional families, but when dissecting Kya's, I think it was the abandonment by her mother (and siblings) and the volatility and alcoholism of her father that were the most affecting. Two books with similar parental relationships immediately come to mind:
Wells' memoir is a moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms (much like the fictional Kya). When sober, Wells' brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family. As a result, the Walls children learned to take care of themselves - they fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually carved out lives of their own.
While not a new release by any means, Flowers definitely touches on the loneliness, isolation and parental abandonment and abuse that you will also find in Crawdads. Likewise, you'll find just as much heartbreak and hope as you learn about how the Dollanganger children (as they grow into adults throughout the series) have to learn, much like Kya and her siblings did, to make their own way and reconcile their mother's abandonment (just like Kya does).
The Isolated Yet Resilient Protagonist (Kya)
Told from several different family member's perspectives, the story centers on Myra Lamb - a wild, strong and independent woman living on Bloodroot Mountain in Appalachia. Like Kya, Myra is outcast by local residents who call her a witch. She meets her own version of Kya's Chase Andrews, as she becomes involved with John Odom, sparking a shocking disaster and ripping lives apart. In many ways you'll find that Myra is like Kya - from growing up in isolation, to her learned independence. As a bonus, Greene does an incredible job of infusing the wilds of Appalachia into her text.
This one makes many Crawdads read-alike lists, and I think it feels like a solid recommendation if you were absorbed by Kya's secluded life and thirst for learning. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Her family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge University. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
The Who Done It Mystery
| A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell
This is a who done it in reverse - whereas we do not know who killed Chase Andrews until the very end of Crawdads, here the reader does not learn who was murdered until the very end. The story of complex killer Vera Hillyard is told through her niece Faith, who reflects on her currently imprisoned relative and the events that led to her current situation. Though we know Vera is a killer, Vine artfully hides who it is that Vera kills and why, making the bitter truth at the end utterly devastating.
The Father-Figure Character (Jumpin')
If you're like me, one of your favorite characters in Crawdads was Jumpin', the shop keeper who looks out for Kya and becomes almost like a father-figure. You'll find a similar type of father-daughter relationship in The Book Thief. The relationship between young Liesel and her adopted father, Hans Hubermann, is in many ways the heartbeat that makes this entire book pulse. Hans adores Liesel, playing his accordion for her and teaching her to read in a series of secret, late-night sessions. Hans Hubermann’s soft and understated brand of strength shines throughout Markus Zusak’s novel as a positive force in the otherwise harrowing and tragic setting of Nazi Germany.
The Love Story
The love story in Crawdads is much like those found in many other novels (and movies) - person from the right side of the track falls for person from the wrong side of the track. What I did love about this one though, is that there is a character surprise in there. Just when you think you have Kya's love interest Tate figured out...you realize that you don't.
(Warning...possible spoilers ahead)
Of course, the novel which immediately comes to mind is The Notebook. I don't read a lot of romance, so this is one of the few that I've read which shares similarities, though the roles are reversed here - Noah is a laborer and Allie comes from a wealthy family. After meeting and spending the summer falling in love, the two are separated for some years (just as Kya and Tate are) only to realize later in life that they still love one another. Like Kya, Allie also loves to paint, and becomes a renowned artist. The love story ends similarly as well, with Noah reflecting back on his life with Allie, just as Tate does over Kya.
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