Is Where The Crawdads Sing based on a true story? The hit novel from Delia Owens has been turned into a thriller movie from director Olivia Newman. Daisy-Edgar Jones stars in the lead role, as Kya, the ‘marsh girl’ who stands trial for murder in a town that has always ostracised her.
Since coming out in 2018, Where The Crawdads Sing has become one of the best-selling books of recent times. By the end of 2019, some 4.5 million copies had sold, and it’d been endorsed by celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, who included it in her Hello Sunshine Book Club. All of which makes an adaptation involving former Fifty Shades lead Daisy-Edgar Jones very unsurprising.
Although it’s a work of fiction, is there a true story behind Where The Crawdads Sing? Do the trials and tribulations that face the ‘marsh girl’ bear any resemblance to Owens’ own past? After all, creators often imbue some aspect of their life experience into their work. We’ve trawled the swamps of the internet to provide answers.
Is Where The Crawdads Sing true?
Bluntly: no, Where The Crawdads Sing is not inspired by or based on a true story. There’s no evidence to suggest that a woman living in the marshes of North Carolina in the ’60s stood trial for murder. However, legal issues from Owens’ past can suggest she’s drawing from lived experience.
In the film and novel, Catherine, nicknamed Kya, is abandoned by her family and forced to fend for herself. Over the years, she makes a meagre living selling fish and mussels to traders in a nearby town, Barkley Cove.
In the swamp, she meets Tate who takes a liking to her. They become romantically involved, but he eventually moves away for university. After Tate, Kya meets the charming and confident Chase Andrews. They start seeing each other, but Chase is abusive and arrogant, and it turns out he’s engaged to someone else in the town.
Kya breaks it off, and when Tate comes back from college, he stands up for her to Tate and his cronies. It’s Chase’s body that turns up at the start of the movie, with evidence suggesting he’d been pushed from a fire tower. What little information can be gleaned from the body points to Kya.
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She’s arrested, and the case goes to court. Her lawyer argues this is all about prejudice against an outsider, and eventually, she’s found not guilty. In a final revelatory scene, though, it turns out she did do it, as Tate discovers a necklace missing from Chase’s body in Kya’s things.
Nothing like this ever happened to Delia Owens. She didn’t grow up in marshland, she and her husband met in university, and they moved to Africa in the ’70s. Kya does share interests with Owens, as she becomes an authority on animals that live in the swamp, while the author is an expert in zoology and animal behaviour.
This is where the similarities end on a personal level. Owens was involved in allegations around someone’s death, but the circumstances are much different. In the early ’90s, her stepson, Christopher, was accused of shooting and killing a poacher in Zambia. According to Vanity Fair, the family is still wanted for questioning in the country related to the incident, but Owens has denied all involvement.
“Chris wasn’t there. We don’t even know where that event took place. It was horrible, a person being shot like that,” she told The New Yorker in 2010. “We think people say Chris did this because they got confused because the cameraman was named Chris, too. We don’t know anything about that trip.”
Where The Crawdads Sing bears little resemblance to the incident in question. The backdrop and cause of death are totally different, as are the circumstances leading up to it. If there’s any crossover between the story and the real world, it perhaps lies in Kya’s fascination with the wilderness being a reflection of Owens’s own lifetime pursuit.
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Their upbringings were different, but nature gave them an escape. Where The Crawdads Sing serves as a reminder to never lose sight of the beauty that’s all around you, because it might be the salvation you’re looking for.