If Delia Owens hadn’t written the global phenomenon “Where the Crawdads Sing,” theaters would look a little different this weekend. But Owens did write a novel that captures themes of nature, adolescence and a murder mystery all in one. Reese Witherspoon’s book club amplified the novel as one of its earlier monthly picks for readers, and her production company Hello Sunshine subsequently spearheaded the film adaptation.
The film and book follow Catherine Danielle Clark, whose nickname is Kya, as she grows up all alone in the marsh on the edge of Barkley Cove. Kya started out with a family, but one by one all of her relatives left her — the root cause being her abusive and alcoholic father. The Marsh takes the primary caring role in Kya’s life, and she has some help from Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith) and Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr.) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt). Kya’s life unfolds very similarly onscreen, with a few slight differences.
But book readers may be wondering, just how different is the “Where the Crawdads Sing” movie from the book? We run down the biggest differences below.
Note: The following contains spoilers for both the book and the movie.
Kya’s capture follows Chase’s death closely
In the book, Kya doesn’t get detained until about two thirds of the way through, after the Sheriff and his Deputy have investigated and gathered “enough evidence” to arrest her. In the book Jumpin’ tries to warn her that the police have finally trapped her when she approaches his dock to get gas. In the film, after finding Chase’s dead body, the Sheriff approaches Kya’s shack, from which she runs away through the woods before boarding her boat where they track her down in the marsh. She dives into the water to hide from the Sheriff’s boat, but they catch her.
Kya narrates her memories and story up until the trial
The book is told from a third person omniscient narrator perspective that mostly follows Kya. In the film, once Kya has been put in jail, Tom Milton (David Strathairn) visits her in jail to ask about defending her in court. Then she starts to tell him her story. Her voiceover continues throughout the film, describing how she felt and often using direct lines from the book.
Kya doesn’t get her period in front of Tate
In a complex scene in the book, Kya gets her period, but thinks it might just be food poisoning or the runs. She rests in her boat to see if the symptoms will subside, but when Tate sees her boat he comes up to her. She tells him her stomach hurts, and he is the one to suggest it might not be just a regular stomach ache. She then goes to Mabel later to get help from her. This scene was cut from the film completely.
Tom Milton has more of a role – other characters don’t
Tom Milton mainly appears during the trial towards the end of the book after he comes out of retirement to help Kya. When Kya is mostly done telling her story in the film and Mr. Milton is visiting her in her cell, she tells him he’s been nothing but kind to her. In the beginning of her story onscreen she remembers him encouraging her to go to school even though she hears the town girls walking by whisper that she’s dirty. She continues on to school barefoot. Milton fills the spot of some truant officers who come knocking at Kya’s shack in the book to escort her to school.
There’s no mention of poetry
Tate loves poetry in the book. His dad Scupper raised him to believe a real man reads poetry and can cry and express emotions. When Tate teaches Kya to read, he passes on this love of poetry to her. Throughout the rest of the book she writes and recites poems. Poetry does not appear in the film at all. The absence of poetry also omits one twist in the book, while one is still included in the film but signaled in a similar way, more visually with an illustration by Kya instead of a poem she writes.
Kya finds out Chase is engaged right in front of him
Spoiler alert! Chase gets engaged to Pearl, who he has known since they were children. Kya finds out at the same point in the story, but the film compacts the news. In the book, she sees Chase with his arms around Pearl, but she has to find out that they are newly engaged through the newspaper. In the movie, Pearl flashes her ring to Kya when she runs into Chase in town.
Kya still dies in the film and her death still comes naturally, but there’s an added element that makes it more emotional. At the end of the film, she has a vision of her Ma, walking toward her to escort her into the afterlife.