I can't stop thinking about how the ending changed.
Just a month after Delia Owens’ mystery, Where The Crawdads Sing, was published in August 2018, it was selected for Reese Witherspoon’s prolific book club. From that point forward, as readers fell in love with the story, it was only a matter of time until the tale would be adapted for screen, just like other Witherspoon book club picks turned screen sensations, Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere. Now, the film adaptation of Where The Crawdads Sing has joined that list, but book fans might not be so fond of all the changes made for it to get there.
Warning: Heavy spoilers for both the book and film, Where The Crawdads Sing, follow. Where The Crawdads Sing is a Southern mystery/romance that follows Kya from when her family leaves her to fend for herself at 6 years old in the marshes of North Carolina to when she’s arrested and tried for the murder of Chase Andrews, a wealthy young man from town. It’s a classic summer page-turner imbued with healthy doses of class, gender, race, and social commentary; the strength of love across differences; and empowering independence.
Over the course of the book, Kya dates two men, Tate and Chase. The former is kind and loving, but he leaves Kya after he goes to college; the latter is violent and cruel despite being sweet at first. These two relationships guide the direction of the book, but the mainstay of the plot is Kya’s independence, ability to fend for herself, and life in harmony with the marsh even through the murder trial and her eventual verdict. (It’s worth pointing out Owens, the book’s author, is reportedly wanted for questioning in Zambia for a 1995 murder that occurred while she was participating in the filming of an ABC documentary about poachers with her husband. Many have noted potential parallels between the plot of the book and her real-life story. According to The Atlantic, Owens has denied knowing anything about this incident.)
If you go see the film version of Where The Crawdads Sing, you’ll be greeted by large-print stats telling you that this book is one of the global bestsellers of all time. It had sold 12 million copies as of January 2022, but with the impending release of the movie, the book shot back up bestseller lists again, four years after its release. Clearly, the book has some very dedicated, passionate fans.
Although Owens was quite active in the filming of the movie, a lot was changed from book to screen, including details about Kya’s stand-in parents, Jumpin’ and Mabel, Kya’s childhood, and even the final twist. Here are the biggest standouts.
1. Kya & School
In the earlier chapters of the book, after Kya has been left all alone, a truancy officer chases Kya down and makes her go to school — generally, the presence of police officers and child protective services is very prevalent in her life. In the movie, though, this never happens and Kya tries going to school once after Mabel encourages her to and the lawyer who will one day represent her tells her she belongs as much as anyone else. However, she only lasts in school a day because of the cruelty of the students.
2. Kya’s First Period
The movie never shows this intimate yet uncomfortable scene in which Kya gets her first period and doesn’t have anyone to tell her what’s happening. In the book, Tate explains to her what a period is and Mabel helps teach her how to take care of herself. This scene in the book adds to the realities and depth of Kya’s loneliness and isolation, which enriches the overall story.
3. Tate & Chase
In both the book and the movie, Tate leaves for college and doesn’t return when he promised he would, crushing Kya. In the book, though, Tate doesn't apologize immediately to Kya because he sees Chase and Kya kissing. In the movie, Tate, home from school, learns about their relationship when he hears Chase making cruel, sexual jokes about Kya.
4. The List Of Publishers
Kya’s book writing career starts in both the book and movie when Tate gives her a handwritten list of publishers, but in the book, Tate gives her the list of publishers after he’s already left for college and comes back. In the movie, Tate gives her the list of publishers before he leaves for school, encouraging her to financially support herself.
5. Chase’s Engagement
In the book, Kya is shocked when she learns about Chase’s engagement in the newspaper, but in the movie, she has to stifle this pain because she finds out about Chase’s engagement while in town, confronted by his fiancée’s ring and Chase’s arm around her.
6. Kya’s Brother Jodie
Jodie is important in both the book and movie, but he plays a pivotal role in Tate and Kya’s relationship in the book, partly because he was a close friend of Tate’s when they were kids. When he comes home to tell Kya that their mother passed away, he encourages her to forgive Tate. In the movie, the siblings have a sweet reunion, but Jodie doesn’t weigh in on her relationship with Tate.
7. The Trial
One of the biggest changes from book to film is the structure of the narrative. In the book, Kya’s arrest and trial don’t start until later, but in the movie, Kya’s arrest is one of the first scenes, followed immediately by her meeting with a lawyer. Because of this, the bits that focus on the heart-wrenching pain of her childhood are briefer in the movie and come only as a flashback triggered by talking to her lawyer, instead of being an important standalone section of the narrative.
8. The Racism Faced By Jumpin’ & Mabel
The racism that Jumpin’ and Mabel are subjected to is much more prevalent in the book. Thus, the stakes are much higher for Jumpin’ and Mabel in the book than what is portrayed in the movie. There are many examples, but one important difference is when they're awaiting Kya’s verdict, everyone she loves can wait in a conference room except for Jumpin’ and Mabel, who have to wait outside in the waiting area for Black people.
Although Jumpin’ and Mabel mention the danger of them helping a young white girl in the movie, it doesn’t show the same realities that the book detailed.
9. Tate & Kya’s Reconciliation
After Kya is found not guilty in the book, she sees Tate being taken in by sheriffs, but realizes later it’s just because they had to inform his of his father’s passing. In the book, this is what gets them back together. In the movie, Kya, once released, simply decides she wants to reconcile with him.
10. Kya’s Funeral
Generally, the book has much more detail about Kya’s connection to nature, the land, and the marsh specifically. This comes into stark relief after her death when Tate affectionately inscribes her tombstone with her nickname, “The Marsh Girl.” She is buried on her own land and the funeral is very well attended. None of these details are in the movie.
11. The Twists
Perhaps most pivotally, the end of the book and movie are quite different. At the end of the book, there are two twists that intertwine. After Kya’s death, Tate finds papers hidden under a floorboard in their house. Here, he finds poems written by Amanda Hamilton, a poet who Kya quotes throughout the book — often using her lines as a comfort in moments of fear. As he keeps looking, he realizes that Kya was Amanda Hamilton; she’d published poetry under this pseudonym.
One of the poems he finds cinches the nature metaphor of female fireflies and praying mantises who kill their mates, confirming to Tate and to readers that Kya did, in fact, kill Chase. He also finds Chase’s necklace and gets rid of it at the beach. In the movie, these twists are stripped down. Amanda Hamilton doesn’t exist at all; instead, Tate finds a journal with drawings of them and only learns she killed Chase by finding his necklace in the back of the book. Although it is still pretty clear that Kya killed Chase, this massive change in ending leaves Kya’s culpability much murkier.
Where The Crawdads Sing is now in theaters.