Delia Owens’s 2018 novel swept the literary world, becoming one of the year’s undeniable literary hit books and catching the eye of mega-producer Reese Witherspoon, who acquired the film rights under her Hello Sunshine production banner. The story centers on Kya Clark, who was abandoned as a child to fend for herself along the North Carolina coast and now finds herself the center of a murder trial in her small hometown. The book is catnip for many readers: it’s an intense but readable drama with crime elements that focuses on a young spirited woman with a dark past; it’s set in a beautifully described landscape and populated with memorable characters; and it’s deeply thematic, exploring questions of home, nature, and mistrust.
Unfortunately, accusations of racism are not without merit, and some argue that Owens perpetuates racist stereotypes in her portrayal of certain characters in the novel. Accusations like these should not be taken lightly, as they can damage an author’s reputation unfairly and harm their audience.
As a zoologist and the author of several non-fiction books about her time spent studying animals in Africa, Owens has a unique background that gives her a perspective on the world she has created in Crawdads. However, her past work also reveals an at best patronizing and at worst racist attitude towards black people that rears its ugly head in the narrative of this novel. As the Atlantic points out, Owens often infantilizes the black Africans she writes about by making their dialogue sound childlike and portraying them as far removed from modern civilization and a decent education.