Delia Owens’s historical fiction masterpiece Where the Crawdads Sing engulfed the summer of 2018 in an ethereal mist of love, prejudice, retribution and Southern grit. A beautiful coming-of-age chronicle, Crawdads’ pages overflow with verdant descriptors and intense conflict among an engrossing cast of characters. If a Barkley Cove mosquito has you itching for a similar read, check out one of these titles—and rejoice that the story plays out at the cinemas in July 2022!
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang
Weylyn Grey was born in a blizzard and people say he was raised by wolves. Different from everyone else, endearing and mysterious, he has the extraordinary ability to transform the life of anyone who meets him. In this story told from the perspective of those who meet him, Weylyn Grey turns ordinary life into magic before our eyes.
Where the Line Bleeds by Jesmyn Ward
Where the Line Bleeds is a portrait of a small town Southern American family and takes place over one summer. Living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina, recent high school graduates and twin siblings Joshua and Christophe struggle to find work. While Joshua eventually lands a job working on the docks, Christophe’s life begins to spiral as he turns to peddling drugs. The sudden reappearance of Joshua and Christophe’s parents forces shocking confrontations and a test of fraternal love.
The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere
In 1950s Tennessee, Ivorie Walker has entered her early thirties and suddenly finds herself alone in life. She spent her youth declining the advances of handsome young suitors in her small town, but, when her mother dies, she finds herself lonely and with more time than she knows what to do with. She lives in her childhood home and tends to the family farm that’s been passed down to her. When a boy who lives by himself in the hills begins sneaking onto her farm to steal food, she becomes determined to find out who is and how he came to live in the hills. As she works to uncover answers, she finds a trove of secrets that the townspeople would prefer to keep hidden.
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
Fourteen-year-old Turtle Alveston lives along the California coast where she spends most of her time wandering the Redwood forest. After the death of her mother, Turtle leads an isolated existence with an overbearing father and schoolmates that don’t seem to understand her. When she meets Jacob, a high-school boy, and gains a glimpse of the life he lives, her reality becomes more clear and Turtle realizes that the life she is living with her father isn’t healthy or sustainable. The young teenager begins to plan her escape, prepares for survival in the forest.
Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West
When Ruby’s mother is murdered, she is suddenly left living at home alone with her violent father. Police have dismissed her mother’s murder as just another homicide in a black neighborhood. The only one who understands the severity of the situation is Ruby’s friend, Layla, but now Layla’s father has forbid her from becoming involved further with the Kings. What follows is a test of friendship and a quest to save Ruby that will uncover tragic secrets.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Another runaway hit, Before We Were Yours will certainly fulfil any lingering need for swampy, Southern historical fiction. Told between mid-century Memphis and present-day Aiken, South Carolina, this is the story of siblings estranged from their parents and each other, the scandals and trials they face in the foster system and their unlikely connections as the years go by. Before We Were Yours is based on the real scandals of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is a testament to human nature and one’s prevailing identity no matter where life may wander.
The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
For years, Helena Pelletier has hidden the harrowing truth about her father from everyone, even her husband. But, after Helena’s father breaks out of prison, a manhunt begins, and Helena recognizes herself as the only person with a shot at finding him. Set in Michigan’s marshy Upper Peninsula, The Marsh King’s Daughter is a thrilling, nature-filled tale about the relationship between captor and captive.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
The successor to Kristin Hannah’s wildly popular The Nightingale, The Great Alone is a story of isolation, resilience and societal impact on private goings-on. A PTSD-suffering Vietnam POW moves his family to remote Kaneq, Alaska to escape the—in his opinion—inevitable armageddon brewing in the Lower 49. When Ernt Allbright discovers a cohort of like-minded men up in the Alaska wild, the lives of his wife and daughter endure the side effects. The Great Alone’s Leni will remind you of Kya in her reliance on basic survival instincts and the way she responds to the possibility of becoming a mere victim of circumstance.
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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Convenience Store Woman’s Keiko is a solitary individual and a creature of habit. When Keiko’s very comfortable status-quo is one day upended, questions of the necessity of conformity come into play. While Keiko’s day-to-day attitudes and quirks certainly have their differences when compared to Kya’s, the two characters share a similarity in marching to the beat of their own respective drums.
Golden Child by Claire Adam
Claire Adam’s Golden Child is a story of expectations, limitations and how an individual can progress through life with those imposed on him. Set in rural Trinidad and full of juxtaposing beauty and discomfort, Golden Child, similarly to Crawdads, explores themes of betrayal and familial dysfunction and its lasting impacts; Golden Child’s matter-of-fact tone is also reminiscent of Kya’s emotional disconnection from much of her human surroundings in favor of her natural ones.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
On the surface, Beartown is the story of a crime committed by a member of the small-town high school’s winning hockey team. At its core, however, this is a story of small-town politics, the acts people are willing to overlook because of someone’s place in society and the ripple effect of just one person speaking up. The city of Beartown, its society and its small-scale nationalism is very reminiscent of Barkley Cove and the residents’ views of all that surrounds them and their willingness—or lack thereof—to let those views be changed.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Another Southern historical fiction gem, The Secret Life of Bees will provides a similar ambiance to Crawdads but offers almost a parallel universe-esque storyline. Full of southern charm and grit and a strong connection to nature and other women, this coming-of-age tale might prompt you to consider, “What if Kya had a Rosaleen to look out for her?” Sue Monk Kidd’s novel and the role of mothers and women will have you reflecting on the role of a mother’s absence in Crawdads.
Post-Traumatic by Chantal V. Johnson
Vivian appears to have it all. As a successful lawyer, she spends her days advocating for patients with mental illness, but her nights are filled with haunting childhood memories. On top of that, she struggles with being a Black, Latinx female in a predominately white society. Her coping skills consist of dating, dieting and spending time with her best friend, Jane. When a family reunion pushes Vivian to make a change, she feels more lost than ever and starts to spiral. With everything on the line, will she finally find a way to heal from the trauma holding her hostage?
A Very Nice Girl by Imogen Crimp
Anna feels like a misfit with everything she does. After receiving a coveted spot at the elite London Conservatory, it becomes even more clear that she has nothing in common with her wealthy classmates. With no family to help her out, she finds a job as a singer in a bar to earn some extra cash. It’s there that Anna meets a mysterious, rich man named Max, and it’s love at first sight. Even though early signs point to a toxic relationship, she is desperate with desire for him. Between auditions, rehearsals, and trying to force real human connection, she wonders if the hustle is worth losing herself in the process.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
Forty-year-old Bix is a father of four and bored with daily life. So when he stumbles upon a group of Columbian professors experimenting with accessing suppressed memories, he’s all in. He runs with the new technology and creates a program called “Own Your Unconscious,” where you can download your memories and exchange them, allowing the experiences of others to be embedded into your own mind. Although some find this to be fascinating, others realize the dire consequences. As the past intersects with the present, humans start to question everything about their current reality.
The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian
When Ada traded in her tumultuous life on the swamp for a different experience in Baton Rouge, she thought she was free from her difficult dad. However, things took a turn, and soon she would have to return home. On the other side of the swamp, Matilda is working hard to protect her family from some dangerous locals and formulates a plan for the girls to head north and expose all of the sordid secrets hiding in the south. As they become closer on their treacherous journey, these two realize that their lives are more intertwined than they thought, and they must reconcile the past to survive the future.
We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin
Ten years ago, Trumanell vanished without a trace, and the only clue she left behind was a bloody handprint. However, the community has not forgotten, as posters remain plastered all over town in hopes of her return. When Tru’s brother Wyatt discovers a lost girl wandering in a field, he believes that this is a sign, and so does Odette, the town’s youngest police officer. On a mission to get to the bottom of both cases, Odette is determined to figure out what’s right in front of her while simultaneously digging up dark secrets from a decade ago. Suddenly everyone is a suspect, and nobody is safe.
Lakewood by Megan Giddings
It wasn’t until Lena’s grandma passed away that she became aware of her family’s insurmountable debt. She feels that she has no choice but to quit college and get a good-paying job. When she accepts an offer in the remote town of Lakewood, she can’t believe her good luck. Not only is the pay incredible, but it comes with free housing. The only caveat is that the work is top secret and includes experimental drugs being administered to humans. Although the company paints a picture of promise for a better future, she realizes that while this job may pay well, the actual cost comes with dire consequences.
The After Party by A.C. Arthur
Jackie, Venus, and Draya have formed a close bond at work. Not only are they intelligent and deserving of recognition, but they all can’t stand their boss. After the company holiday party, the ladies continue socializing and verbalize how much better their lives would be without their demanding boss ruining their days. So when he turns up murdered the next day, the women are shaken to the core. This plot twist takes them down a road with several unexpected turns, and they will need to rely on each other more than ever to navigate the utterly unexpected situation they find themselves in.
The Girl You Killed by Leslie Wolfe
From the outside looking in, Andrea was living a dream life. She was successful in both her career and marriage, while happily homemaking in one of Houston’s most coveted neighborhoods. However, only a few months later, everything changed when Andrea’s husband, Craig, was charged with her murder. Shortly after the news broke of Andi’s untimely death, this case became the talk of the town, and suddenly everyone was trying to get to know her after she was gone. As buried secrets start to surface and hidden truths are revealed, it only leads to more unanswered questions that only she could answer.
Purple Lotus by Veena Rao
When Tara was just eight years old, her parents left her with extended family and fled to Dubai with their newborn son. Now, re-living life as a prisoner in her own home, she is an American resident and the wife to Sanjay, a tech executive. Because this is the result of an arranged marriage, Tara is miserable and accepts assistance from Americans who want to help her find a way out. Longing for her own life, she finally breaks free and rekindles a romance with the true love of her life, Cyrus Saldanha. But this fairy tale may not have a happy ending if her family has anything to do with it.
The Saints of Swallow Hill by Donna Everhart
Warren and Rae Lynn work well together on a small turpentine farm in North Carolina. Although the work is hard, Rae Lynn is thankful for her husband and the ability to make ends meet. But when Warren makes a mistake that can cost them everything, Rae Lynn makes a bold move and disguises herself as a man named Ray and heads to Swallow Hill for work. She quickly observes that the couple that run this farm aren’t in a happy marriage, but must be careful not to get too close, or she’ll run the risk of revealing her identity. With so much at stake, she must find a way out of this mess before it’s too late.
(Feature image is a She Reads original)
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