Where the Crawdads Sing Book vs Movie Review

Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens (2018)

Where the Crawdad’s Sing directed by Olivia Newman (2022)

Summary

Kya raises herself in the swamps in the 1950-1960’s and is judged by the town and called the marsh girl. When a guy named Chase mysteriously dies, people think it was Kya because he and Kya had had a relationship. She is brought to trial for the murder and while the trial is happening, we go in the past and learn more about Kya, Chase, and this other guy she dated, Tate. Ultimately Kya is found innocent, she gets with Tate in the end, and it isn’t until she dies of old age that we learn she actually had killed Chase.

Book Review

I think the descriptions of the scenery were beautiful, however the character development was not there at all. All of these people were so one dimensional and the dialogue was cheesy and unnatural. Owens had written nonfiction, science books before, and it shows. Creating nuanced characters is not her strength. The romance was also very lack luster. Plus, the murder mystery we get in the book was also lack luster! I am usually a fan of a court room scene, but here it just felt repetitive.

Overall, both book and movie feel like a mix between a YA romance and a Lifetime movie.

Movie Review

I went into this movie expecting it to be a very faithful adaptation, and that is what I got! The question is, is it one of those faithful adaptations that was boring for someone who is familiar with the book? Or is it that high level of adaptation that stays so true to the book, yet even the reader is kept on their toes and is held captivated? You will have to keep reading to find out…

The best part of this movie was, dare I say, David Strathairn! He plays the retired lawyer who feels bad for the way the town has treated the “marsh girl” and tries to make his amends by defending her in court.

The scenery is of course beautiful, with the lakes, the Spanish moss, the huge magical looking trees, the beaches, and the wildlife.

When it comes to changes to book to film, there are very few.

Kya’s childhood

The book begins with Kya’s mother leaving, then one by one each of her siblings leave. In the book, she has blocked out the memory of her father hitting the mom that very day and is therefore always confused as to why she would have left her own children. In the movie it doesn’t show Kya having forgotten he hit her.

In book and movie, the dad is shown as being an abusive alcoholic and when it is just the two of them two do have their good days. However, when Kya’s mom writes a letter to them, the dad reads it, burns it, then drinks again and not long after, he too leaves Kya.

She gets help from a guy named Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel, but it still seemed pretty unrealistic that a seven-year-old would be able to basically raise herself. It would have made more sense if Jumpin’ and Mabel had taken her in.

Tate

She has known Tate since they were kids because he was a friend of her brother’s. However, it isn’t until they are in their teens (like 17) that they strike up a friendship and he teaches her to read and write. I did think the moment when she first reads in both book and movie was a good scene. She reads a sentence about nature, and is taken aback, not knowing words could hold so much power.

She and Tate begin a romantic relationship, but he doesn’t want to have sex with her because he doesn’t want to hurt her. They continue to date for a while after this, but clearly, he had reservations about their relationship lasting, otherwise he wouldn’t have help back. It was good of him to not take advantage of her and to keep her emotions in mind, yet at the same time, he later abandons her for like five years without ever giving her a reason!

In the book and movie, he stands her up because he thinks there is no way she could live in the civilized world and he can’t sacrifice the world for her. In the book, he had been on his way to see her, when he saw her hiding, animal-like, from other people boating by. He is embarrassed of her and this is when he turns around. In the movie we don’t get this moment, but when he returns, he explains to her what he ditched her.

I wasn’t feeling their romance in the book. It felt too cheesy and cliché, as much of this book was. The movie has a scene where they are in this clearing, then leaves start blowing around and Kya and Tate get all smiley and excited about the leaves and then he kisses her. This scene felt way to cheesy.

Chase

Chase enters her life a couple years after Tate, and he is with her just to be the guy to say he took the marsh girls virginity. They date steadily for a long while though and in the book, she gives him the shell necklace fairly early on, and he never takes it off. In the movie, she gives him the necklace after their night in the hotel.

The movie did a good job at making the audience hate Chase, the hotel scene being a great example. Yet at the same time, he didn’t feel like a real person and was just this surface level person with no dimension. Even abusive people in real life have some depth and are fleshed out people.

In the book, Chase was a jerk but I don’t think that warrants him being killed. I would have preferred if Kya came up with some way to threaten him and scare him into leaving her alone. But if that is what happened, we wouldn’t get the whole trial scene.

The trial

I’ll start by saying I loved David Strathairn in the role of Mr. Milton. He brought a warmth and sincerity to the role.

In the book, the trial scene was pretty slow going I thought. But that was partly because I didn’t believe any of the red herrings. If Jumpin’ or Tate had killed Chase to protect Kya, why would they then sit by and let her go through a trial where she could be sentenced to death?? If either of them, did it, once Kya was accused, they would have come forward and confessed.

Anyway, Kya is found not guilty.

Getting with Tate

In both, Kya and Tate get together. In the book, her brother returns, and tells her what happens to their mom. (Which I found to be a weak excuse). Anyway, he has some paintings she had done, and one shows young Kya with young Tate and this is what makes Kya realizes she was meant to be with Tate all along. In the movie her brother returns and tells her about their mom, but there is not painting.

The ending

The book and movie end with Kya dying of old age, and while Tate is going through her things, he finds the necklace which proves she killed chase. In the book, it is in this hiding spot in the floorboards and along with the necklace there is a poem written by this poet Kya was constantly quoting throughout the book which we realize in the end was Kya herself. Anyway, the poem talks about how she lured him to his death the way female fireflies lure male fireflies in order to kill them.

In the movie, he finds it in this journal type book where she has written that in the wild, animals need to kill their predators.

Delia Owens

One of the reasons this book and movie rub me the wrong way is because Delia Owens herself “allegedly” was involved in the murder of a poacher in the 1990’s in Africa. Like Kya, Owens and her family decided to take the law into their own hands and felt justified in doing so. Owens and her family are no longer allowed in Zambia, but like Kya, they were never officially accused and found guilty. Considering that is in her past, it seems in bad taste for her to write a character that is very much like herself, getting away with a “righteous murder”.

Delia Owens should be interrogated as a possible witness, co-conspirator, and accessory to felony crimes.

Her books

Owens herself is a naturalist and has published nonfiction works before Crawdads. Kya also becomes an author when she publishes books about the wildlife in the marsh with the paintings she has done.

In the movie, these books were so beautiful! Like seriously, I would love to buy those books.

Book or Movie

The Owens controversy aside, when it comes to book versus movie, I will say the movie wins. I am pretty positive I will never read the book again, and I highly doubt I will ever rewatch the movie. Nonetheless, it is a very faithful adaptation and the swamps and the marsh are beautiful to look at and the acting was decent. I don’t know why this wasn’t a straight to streaming movie, because it definitely had that lifetime feel.  I also have no idea why this book was on the best seller list for so long. The fact that people were hyping it up so much just made me so confused and I disliked it even more because of that. With the movie though, while I wouldn’t recommend seeing it in theaters, if you can stream it from the comfort of your own home, then sure it’s worth watching. I wanted to end with this great quote from the Indiewire movie review for this,  “Olivia Newman’s (“First Match”) slick and glossy beach read of a movie adaptation brings it all right to the surface. Which is just as well, because the surface is the only layer this movie has.”