The story is set primarily in the 1950s and ’60s but covers decades. Kya has lived in a shack in a North Carolina swamp since her childhood. She is abandoned first by her mother, and eventually by the rest of her family. She is left alone as a teenager to fend for herself, digging mussels to sell to an elderly black man named Jumpin’. Kya loves the marsh and its animals, as does Tate, a boy who turns into her childhood love and teaches her how to read. Then Tate goes off to college and Kya feels abandoned once again. She takes up with Chase, the local roue. Kya eventually becomes a recognized expert on marsh flora and fauna. There’s a murder and an investigation and a trial. I won’t say more on the plot to avoid spoilers.
Kya’s character is very sympathetic, unbelievably so. Everyone except Jumpin’ and the black residents call her The Swamp Girl and make fun of her. The local whites treat her as retarded when in fact she is, of course, the smartest one of them all. The writing is almost poetic at times but the politically correct bias (poor black = good; rich white = evil) grates and as a law enforcement retiree, I felt the author could have treated the sheriff better. It’s a worthy read, but its flaws forced me to drop a star from its rating.