Finally a book I absolutely loved! It's been a long time since I read one that I had trouble putting down.
Apparently the author has written several non-fiction books about nature and that comes through in the writing - her descriptions of the North Carolina swamp flora and fauna are very detailed - sometimes a little too detailed for my liking, but that didn't detract from the main story for me.
Kya Clark was abandoned by her mother at age six and over the next few years her much older siblings and her drunken father also leave. So she learns to fend for herself in a rotting shack with little money and no education. She went to school for one day in her life, but the prejudiced townspeople looked down on the "swamp girl" so she never went back. Instead she makes a living selling oysters to a local black man who runs a gas station and small store. For a long time he and his wife are the only friends she has - and the only ones who look out for her.
Later she spends time with Tate - a slightly older boy who was a friend of one of her brothers. He teaches her how to read and eventually they fall in love. But he leaves for college and doesn't return when promised. This just cements her view that loved ones always abandon you. So she takes up with a local football hero, Chase, who is also a few years older than her. He also eventually leaves her.
But with the skills she learned from Tate, and her immense knowledge of her surroundings, she manages to survive on her own.
The story of Kya's coming of age is interspersed with a murder investigation and trial. Chase is found dead at the base of a water tower and the sheriff immediately points the finger at Kya. The trial is so suspenseful that I really didn't figure out what would happen until it did (which is rare for me). And the end of the novel was even more surprising.
I highly recommend this one! The writing is lyrical, the characters are charming and the suspense is intriguing.