Spoiler Alert! The following post describes major plot points and the ending of Where the Crawdads Sing (the book and the movie). Stop reading now if you don’t want to know.
New swamp, same Marsh Girl.
After four years and selling more than 12 million copies worldwide, Delia Owens’ 2018 thriller Where the Crawdads Sing has finally arrived on the big screen. The romantic drama (in theaters now) is executive produced by Reese Witherspoon, whose Hello Sunshine book club contributed to the success of the novel, which has spent more than 200 weeks on the USA TODAY Best Sellers list, including 16 weeks at the No . 1.
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Beginning in 1952 and spanning several decades, the film follows a reclusive woman named Kya (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who was forced to raise herself when her family abandoned her as a young girl. Living alone in a cabin on the North Carolina coast, Kya falls in love with gentle Tate (Taylor John Smith) and Chase (Harris Dickinson) of two, whose love triangle soon ends in death.
When Chase is found dead in a swamp one day, the scoffing townsfolk – who call Kya “Marsh Girl” – immediately pin her as the prime suspect, and the film alternates between Kya’s trial and flashbacks leading up to Chase’s murder.
Despite largely negative reviews for the film (33% positive overall Rotten Tomatoes), fans of Owen’s book may be relieved to know that the film adaptation remains largely faithful to its source material. Here are five of the biggest changes from page to screen:
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1. Kya’s parents are given less depth in the ‘Crawdads’ movie
The roles of Kya’s embattled Ma (Ahna O’Reilly) and angry, alcoholic Pa (Garret Dillahunt) are heavily downsized for the film. The book gives them a sympathetic backstory: it explains how they overcame social and economic adversity to be dragged along during the Great Depression, only to be torn apart by Pa’s heavy drinking and gambling as they started a family. Fed up with his abuse, Kya’s mother and siblings leave home one by one until Kya is the only person staying with Pa. He slowly reveals a softer side of himself: He teaches Kya to fish and calls her “Hon”.
Almost everything is cut out for the film, which reduces young Kya (Jojo Regina) and her parents to just a few brief scenes.
2. Kya is more proactive when it comes to being released in the film
In the first half of the film, Kya and Tate gradually fall in love as he teaches her to read and write. Along the way, Kya makes detailed sketches of plants, animals, and shells that Tate thinks are good enough to sell. So he gives her a list of publishers that produce wildlife reference books, which Kya meets in person to sign a contract and negotiate an upfront payment.
But in the book, Kya doesn’t become a writer until much later, and Tate does more groundwork. Years after Tate left for college and abruptly disappeared from Kya’s life, he shows up at her swampland home to apologize and explain that he never thought she could live with him in the outside world.
He comes in to look at her drawings and volunteers to send her work to publishers, both as a peace offering and a way to keep in touch with Kya. She eventually gets a contract in the mail and gets her first book published two years later.
3. Chase’s engagement revelation is even more shocking on screen
After Tate ghosts her when he goes to college, Kya accepts that she may never see or hear from him again. She cautiously begins dating Chase, who is ashamed to be seen around town with “the Marsh Girl” and keeps their relationship a secret.
Kya learns to live with the arrangement – until she finds out Chase is engaged. In the film, Kya runs into Chase and a group of his friends while shopping. One of them, Pearl (Caroline Cole), introduces herself to a stunned Kya as Chase’s fiancé. The revelation is a little less dramatic in the book, where one day Kya happens on her wedding ad in the local paper.
4. Kya’s reconciliation with Tate is less rushed in the book
After Tate tells Kya that Chase isn’t good enough for her, Tate mostly disappears from the film until the end, when Kya is found not guilty of the murder due to a lack of concrete evidence. Kya says in a voiceover that Tate is the only man she has ever truly loved and takes the boat out to the swamp where she finds Tate fishing and kisses him.
There are other scenes in the novel where Kya and Tate rekindle their relationship. She personally delivers her first book to him when it is published, and he visits her in prison during her trial. After being acquitted, Tate finds a feather left by Kya on his boat. He drives to her house to confess his love to her and to promise her that he will never leave her again, and they grow old happily together in the final chapter of the book.
5. Amanda Hamilton is nixed for the film
Throughout the novel, Kya recites a variety of poems by her favorite author, Amanda Hamilton, who is relatively unknown. Decades later, after Kya dies, Tate goes through her journals and discovers that Amanda was actually a pseudonym for Kya, who also wrote a poem allegedly admitting to Chase’s murder.
Kya’s pseudonym is completely absent from the film. Instead, Tate discovers sketches of Chase in Kya’s old notebooks, along with a sleeve taped to the back. When they first started dating, Kya gave Chase a seashell necklace, which mysteriously disappeared when he was murdered. Tate realizes that the sleeve in Kya’s notebook belongs to Chase and, like in the book, throws the sleeve in the water to hide the evidence before the film goes black.