Spoiler alert! The following post details important 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 more than 12 million copies sold 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 helped fuel the success of the novel, which has spent more than 200 weeks on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list, including 16 weeks at No. 1.
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Beginning in 1952 and spanning multiple 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 shack on the coast of North Carolina, Kya falls for the gentle Tate (Taylor John Smith) and two-timing Chase (Harris Dickinson), whose love triangle soon turns fatal.
When Chase is found dead in a swamp one day, the derisive townsfolk – who call Kya “Marsh Girl” – immediately pin her as a lead suspect, and the movie proceeds to cut between Kya’s courtroom trial and flashbacks leading up to Chase’s murder.
Despite largely negative reviews for the film (33% positive on aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes), fans of Owens’ book may be relieved to learn that the movie adaptation is mostly 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’ film
The roles of Kya’s embattled Ma (Ahna O’Reilly) and angry, alcoholic Pa (Garret Dillahunt) are majorly downsized for the movie. The book gives them a sympathetic backstory: explaining how they overcame social and economic odds to get hitched during the Great Depression, only to be torn apart by Pa’s heavy drinking and gambling once they started a family. Fed up with his abuse, Kya’s mom and siblings all leave home one by one, until Kya is the only person left with Pa. He slowly reveals a softer side of himself: teaching Kya to fish and calling her “hon.”
Almost all of that is cut for the film, which relegates young Kya (Jojo Regina) and her parents to just a few short scenes.
2. Kya is more proactive about getting published in the movie
In the film’s first half, Kya and Tate gradually fall in love as he teaches her to read and write. On the side, Kya makes detailed sketches of plants, animals and shells, which Tate believes are good enough to sell. So he gives her a list of publishers that produce wildlife reference books, one of whom Kya meets with in person to sign a deal and negotiate an advance payment.
But in the book, Kya doesn’t become an author until much later and Tate does more of the groundwork. Years after Tate goes to college and abruptly disappears from Kya’s life, he shows up at her marshland home to apologize, explaining that he never thought she’d be able to live with him in the outside world.
He comes inside to look at her drawings and volunteers to mail her work to publishers, as both a peace offering and a way to stay in touch with Kya. She eventually lands a contract through the mail and gets her first book published two years later.
3. Chase’s engagement revelation is more shocking on screen
After Tate ghosts her when he leaves for college, Kya accepts that she may never see or hear from him again. She warily starts to date Chase, who’s ashamed of being seen around town with “the Marsh Girl” and keeps their relationship a secret.
Kya learns to live with the arrangement – that is until she discovers that Chase is engaged. In the movie, Kya bumps into Chase and a group of his friends while grocery shopping. One of them, Pearl (Caroline Cole), introduces herself as Chase’s fiancée to a stunned Kya. The reveal is slightly less dramatic in the book, where Kya happens on their wedding announcement one day in the local newspaper.
4. Kya’s reconciliation with Tate is less rushed in the book
After telling Kya that Chase isn’t good enough for her, Tate mostly disappears from the movie until the very end, when Kya is found not guilty of murder for lack of concrete evidence. Kya says in a voiceover that Tate is the only man she’s ever really loved, and proceeds to boat out to the marsh, where she finds Tate fishing and kisses him.
In the novel, there are more scenes of Kya and Tate rekindling their relationship. She hand-delivers her first book to him when it publishes and he visits her in jail during her trial. After she’s acquitted, Tate finds a feather on his boat that Kya left for him. He drives over to her house to confess his love and promise that he’ll never leave her again, and they happily grow old together in the book’s final chapter.
5. Amanda Hamilton gets nixed for the film
Throughout the novel, Kya recites a variety of poems by her favorite writer, Amanda Hamilton, who is relatively unknown. Decades later, after Kya dies, Tate goes through her journals and discovers that Amanda was actually a pen name for Kya, who also wrote a poem ostensibly admitting to Chase’s murder.
Kya’s pseudonym is completely absent from the movie. Instead, Tate discovers sketches of Chase in Kya’s old notebooks, along with a shell taped to the back page. When they first started dating, Kya gifted Chase a shell necklace, which mysteriously went missing when he was murdered. Tate realizes the shell in Kya’s notebook is Chase’s, and like in the book, throws the shell into the water to hide the evidence before the film fades to black.
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