She lives alone in a shack near a North Carolina marsh. To the people of her small coastal town of Barclay’s Cove, she’s “Marsh Girl,” the target of all kinds of fanciful stories and myths and rumours. For most of her life, “Marsh Girl” is a scary local legend: the scandalous wild child, the wolf girl, the uncivilized outsider.
“Marsh Girl’s” real name in Kya. She’s the unlikely heroine of Delia Owens’ novel Where the Crawdads Sing, adapted as a movie released earlier this year.
The town treats Kya as a freak and an outsider; she’s shunned and demeaned. What they don’t know — or don’t see — is Kya’s remarkable courage and resilience.
Kya’s childhood is a nightmare. She lives with a violent drunken father, whose physical abuse drives away first Kya’s mother and then her siblings. Barefoot and undernourished, she tries to go to school but lasts one day — the taunting of the other kids drives her back to the marsh. Pa himself soon ditches Kya, leaving the ten-year-old girl to raise herself in their rundown cabin by the marsh.
Over the next decade, Kya manages not only to survive but flourish. She comes to know every plant and creature in the bayou. She’s inherited her mother’s skill as an artist, creating watercolour drawings of the natural beauty of the marsh — drawings that will one day be published in several books.
But despite the rejection and isolation, Kya possesses the tenacity and resourcefulness to survive on her own. She digs up mussels at dawn and sells them to the Black proprietors of a local general store who will become the closest thing Kya has to a family.
Kya has also inherited her father’s distrust of others — she remains a recluse in her cabin, surrounded by her collections of seashells and feathers and drawings. But with the help of a childhood friend she trusts, Kya learns to read and devours books on natural science.
Despite being the constant target of ridicule, Kya manages to maintain a sense of self-esteem and dignity. Anyone who tries to take advantage of her, believing she’s a helpless, naïve waif, quickly learns otherwise.
The few people Kya comes to trust realize what a remarkable young woman of courage, determination and wisdom she’s become.
Kya lives a life of meaning and accomplishment despite the cruel rejection of the people of Barclay’s Cove. She mirrors the story of Zacchaeus, a good man despised and shunned by the people of Jericho. Jesus recognizes and upholds the good in Zacchaeus — good that his neighbours fail to see. Christ challenges us to put aside our misplaced fears and self-righteousness that cause us to reject the Kya’s and Zacchaeus’s of our own villages and marginalize them and their many gifts they can contribute to our common good.