Kya lay her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.
Kya Clark is a strange creature in her home town on the North Carolina Coast. Once a lost little girl, abandoned by every one she ever loved, forced to care for her abusive father, discarded, abandoned by her mother and siblings run off one by one by her father, she merged with the marsh, the only mother she has left. Growing up as much a part of the land as the trees, the insects and the birds she is closer to nature than to other human beings. It’s no mystery that in 1969, when Chase Andrews is found dead, the people immediately turn their suspicions upon Kya. But first, we must go back to the beginning.
It starts with love story between her mother and father, a man full of promises that soured. It had to have been love once, surely? Was it the depression that brought her Pa so low, or his war injury? Something cracked that Kya is too young to understand. What her parents were before the family ended up here, in a rough-cut shack, eating scraps under the thumb of a cruel father, beaten down by life- Kya is too young to know. It is 1952, and life is mean for her and her siblings. Something is missing behind her mother’s eyes, but Kya and her brother Jodie couldn’t imagine just how bad things could get. Left with their father’s ‘red-faced rages’, the family dissolves until only Kya remains. For a time, she dodges her fathers fists and fury and learns to be the caretaker, with the gnawing hunger in her belly and her empty heart, it is through trial and error that she learns to cook. Her father demands she earns her keep! There is nothing for it but to grow up, insulate herself with tough skin. Her survival dependant fully on herself, she is blessed to know Jumpin’ and Mabel, who despite struggling themselves reach out to Kya. The marsh becomes her mother, a provider when she learns to listen and hunt for food, it isn’t long before she is living in isolation completely. She turns to the marsh for sustenance, the land others fear and dare each other to enter (surely it’s haunted) is her safe haven, the only home she has ever known. She is nothing but a whisper to the townfolk, the marsh girl.
As she comes of age, she is never without the town’s malice, thought of as nothing more than poor marsh trash. Her only attempt at school taught her nothing as vital as just how separate she is from every other boy and girl, lacking in social graces and intellect, not meant for any world but the marsh. She spies on people, quiet as a wild animal, always from a distance, until Tate. Tate awakens in her the world she has been denied, teaching her lessons of literature and of the heart. But not all things tender last, the nature of love is as untamed as her own spirit. What begins in innocence intensifies as her body changes, and her desires grow. Yearning for her mother, for guidance, she leans on Tate. There are threats surrounding them, the biggest one of all… the future. How can she ever fit into a life beyond her barefoot, quiet existence? Why does she long for the people who turn their backs on her? How can she open herself to trust when nothing and no one is solid? Her wants are as meager as her belongings, simply to be touched, to belong. But every single person she has ever loved may as well be a phantom for all their vanishing.
Then there is another boy, whom she has watched, wondering how it would feel to be among his group of friends with their easy, casual play. The very boy who torments everything in his path. Where Tate is shy, sweet, this other boy takes what he wants as his due and just as carelessly discards things he doesn’t. Both will come to play pivotal roles in her lonesome life, each enraptured, almost obsessed by her fierce independence. She is a stolen moment, a world separate from the demands of others, a secret, something easy to take and take your fill of. Isolation grows, even love can’t save her from a life as an outcast.
The years pass, her legend and mystery grows and when she is accused of a horrific crime, how will she convince a town ,whose never shown her one lick of kindness, of her inocence? What of the dead man, could she have had anything to do with his demise? We float along the rough, solitary years of Kya’s life as a boat glides through water, unraveling not just the mystery of a death but of Kya’s unique existence. Nature is as much the reader’s constant companion as it is Kya’s. Can a wild thing ever be kept, tamed through love? Should it be? Those who betrayed her, hurt her, will she even get her own pound of flesh?
The ending was as sad and beautiful as the entire novel. Lingering mysteries are solved, and true love proves itself in the end. It is a story about the nature of the heart and the land. A gorgerous debut novel.
Publication Date: August 14, 2018