Kya Clark, age 6, watched from the porch of her families’ shack on the banks of the marsh as her mother walked down the sandy lane wearing her faux alligator heels and carrying a blue train case. Kya’s mother had left many times before, but she always came back, but this time it felt different. Her brother, Jodie, who was closest in age to Kya assured her that she would come back. “It wasn’t in a mother’s nature to leave their young,” he would say. But he was wrong. Kya never saw her mother again and was left in the care of her neglectful, abusive drunk father. One by one the rest of her four older siblings left the shack leaving her alone with her absent father. Eventually, her father leaves as well. Abandoned and alone she learns to fend for herself by relying on the marsh to help her survive.
The story is set in Barkley Cove, a quiet place along the North Carolina coast. The area is covered in marshland and the means of travel is often by boat. Mother nature became her mother and protected her when her family didn’t. She only attended school for one day because she was teased so badly by the other students, she never returned. The town called her the “marsh girl” and would make up stories and tall tales about who she was, but in fact, she was just an abandon child that no one would help.
In order to survive, she learned to dig for clams and sold them to Jumpin’ who had a gas station and small convenient store along the marsh. Relying only on the kindness of Jumpin’ and his wife Mable, they helped her with supplies and clothes. She developed a friendship with a boy named, Tate, that was once her brother Jodie’s friend. He teaches her to read and write and their common love for the marsh bonds them together. When he goes off to college, she is once again abandoned and alone only relying on the marsh for comfort. Even though all the challenges in her life, she dreamt of getting married and having children one day.
The timeline of the book bounces back and forth between the 1950s to 1969 where the discovery of the town’s golden boy, Chase Andrew’s body is discovered at the bottom of a water tower. It seemed he fell through a grate that was often left open by children playing on the water tower. Although there wasn’t any evidence to suggest a crime was committed the fact that no tracks or footprints could be found around the body leads the sheriff to believe there was more to the “accident” and begins his investigation.
This heartbreaking story of the poor marsh girl leaves you rooting for Kya the entire book. It starts off slow, but once you’re in, you’re hooked. The tone of the book is of sadness and despair, but also resilience. There is a quiet strength that Kya possesses. She’s smart, sensitive, driven and knows herself and the marsh. It’s a beautiful story with so much complexity that it’s gripping. I didn’t think I would like this book, but it won me over. It leaves you in a state of wonder and had a lasting impression on me even after I was done reading it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!