When a book spends 124 weeks on the bestseller list and sells an estimated 7 million copies in two years, you gotta wonder what sets it apart from other books. A big marketing push can send a novel to the top for a week, and when Oprah or Reece Witherspoon select it for their book club, a certain amount of sales are guaranteed.
But 124 weeks? Sales that surpass 4.5 million in 2019 alone? The #6 hardcover of 2020, two years after its publication?
Something’s up with Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
Why did this book resonate with so many readers? Was it simply the writing quality? Did readers connect with the protagonist, Kya Clark? Or was it just a particularly well-told mystery?
If you haven’t read it, Where the Crawdads Sing follows a young girl named Kya who lives in the marshes of North Carolina from the age of six to her early twenties, spanning the years between 1952 and 1969. The book bounces back and forth from past to present, showing Kya as she’s slowly abandoned by her mother, her siblings, and finally her father, and is forced to grow up alone in her family’s shack. It all leads up to present day, when a popular local boy named Chase Andrews is found dead. You can probably guess that Kya becomes the primary suspect.
Reviews tend to highlight the lyrical descriptions of nature, the character development, and the highly satisfying twist ending. It’s a book that has that slow-burning immersive quality you get from beautiful, vivid writing and also the suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat quality of a good mystery or thriller.
But these are the kinds of compliments you’ll see in positive reviews of many, many books. The question that remains is how did this one end up in the hands of so many people? Plenty of books become #1 New York Times bestsellers and enjoy similar ratings and reviews, but they don’t stay on bestseller lists for 124 consecutive weeks.
I have a theory. It’s probably wrong, but this is why I have a blog, so I can put my unqualified opinions out into the world and make a proper fool of myself.
I think Where the Crawdads Sing unwittingly taps into the psychology of the average reader in the Age of Social Media. Especially in the Covid Era, which probably helped the book continue to see strong sales when they otherwise might have finally begun to taper off. Book sales were strong in 2020, but the books that sold the most were established bestsellers. People stuck at home during lockdowns or periods of unemployment tended to select reads that were proven to satisfy–rather than taking a risk on a debut.
But what made Where the Crawdads Sing successful was already true before Covid. Covid just amplified it.
In my opinion, the underlying, subconscious reason this book resonated with millions of people comes in two parts:
- Kya lives in isolation. She’s an outcast. She’s on the outside looking in, and the increasingly rare social interaction is difficult, anxiety-inducing, and potentially disastrous. At a time when our interactions with others rely more and more upon social media, Kya is quite the relatable character, albeit in completely different circumstances. Which brings me to my second point:
- While Kya’s is a familiar experience, the setting itself still provides readers with the escape they’re seeking. The story largely takes place in the marshes of North Carolina, a beautiful, enchanting, freeing setting for readers who are more and more stuck indoors. So we can connect with Kya on the basis of a mutual problem but also want to live in her world and be her friend.
Plenty of books offer one of these elements–escapism or relatability–but this book manages to bring both to the table. Combined with good writing, a clever mystery, some romance, and a nice little twist at the end, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens delivers on such a high level that those of us wishing to sell millions of our own books should probably take note.
I recommend reading it if you’d like an engrossing story with a good mystery, or if you’re a writer who’s interested in dissecting mega-bestsellers and trying to figure out what the author did right. Note that if you buy the book using any link on this site, I may receive a small commission through the Amazon Affiliate Program.
Have you read Where the Crawdads Sing? If so, why do you think it’s sold millions of copies?