The Bestselling Novel 'Where The Crawdads Sing' Is Getting a Movie

Lauren Puckett
·5 mins read
Photo credit: V E Anderson - Getty Images
Photo credit: V E Anderson - Getty Images

From ELLE

We knew when Reese Witherspoon picked the coming-of-age mystery Where The Crawdads Sing—which has now spent an unbelievable 98 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list—as her monthly Reese’s Book Club pick in September 2018, it was only a matter of time before an adaptation followed. Witherspoon has a sizable track record of scooping up smash-hit literature and giving it the Hollywood razzle-dazzle: Her projects include book-to-screen transformations of Wild, Gone Girl, Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, and the upcoming Daisy Jones & The Six.

But Crawdads will be a decidedly different project for the actress. The story does not fit easily into any one genre and focuses almost entirely on one very young narrator: Kya, the “Marsh Girl.” In the Delia Owens novel, the girl lives in Barkley Cove, a quiet coastal town in North Carolina during the 1960s. She’s lived there, alone in her shack, for years, ever since her entire family left her behind, one after the other. Although Kya's secretly a brilliant naturalist, the locals view her with wariness and even disgust—so when heartthrob Chase Andrews is found dead one evening, the blame falls squarely on Kya’s shoulders.

We know from Gone Girl that Hello Sunshine can procure an extremely satisfying murder mystery from its source material, but with a totally different landscape, we’re curious to see where Witherspoon and her fellow creators take this beloved tale. Here’s what we know so far.

The book itself has had an incredible journey.

Where The Crawdads Sing wasn’t supposed to be a bestseller. Before its publication, Owens was a relative unknown, a 70-year-old scientist who had never published a novel before and had been working on the draft for a decade. According to the New York Times, Putnam only printed 28,000 initial copies. But by the end of 2019, Crawdads had sold more copies than any other adult title that year—and it’s still selling, well into 2020.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in 30 years,” Jaci Updike, president of sales for Penguin Random House, told The New York Times. “This book has broken all the friggin’ rules. We like to have a comparison title so that we can do sales forecasts, but in this case none of the comparisons work.”

The author was once at the heart of a real-life murder mystery.

Yes, Owens was a relative unknown at the time of her novel's publication—but she wasn't entirely unknown. She and her now-former husband, Mark, had been the subject of both a 1996 ABC documentary and a 2010 New Yorker feature examining their time as conservationists in Zambia, where they involved themselves in wildlife research and anti-poaching operations. One such mission in 1995 received widespread attention after an unidentified African poacher was tragically shot and killed. Although the Owenses were reportedly not at the scene of the shooting—and they've never been implicated for the murder—some remain suspicious nonetheless.

There've been no recent developments in the case, the Times reports. But Jeffrey Goldberg, the author of the New Yorker feature, told Slate, "a number of people started emailing me about this book, readers who made the connection between the Delia Owens of Crawdads and the Delia Owens of the New Yorker investigation. So I got a copy of Crawdads and I have to say I found it strange and uncomfortable to be reading the story of a Southern loner, a noble naturalist...[and] what is described as a righteously motivated murder in the remote wild.”

Delia told the Times she was never accused of wrongdoing. “I was not involved,” she said. “There was never a case, there was nothing.”

Olivia Newman will direct the film.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Olivia Newman will helm the film adaptation of Where The Crawdads Sing. Her previous directing work includes episodes of FBI, Chicago Fire, and Chicago PD, but her first feature film is perhaps the most captivating entry in her repertoire so far. First Match followed the story of a 15-year-old Brooklynite seeking to reconnect with her estranged father by joining the local boys’ wrestling team. It won the Audience Award for best narrative feature film in competition and the LUNA Gamechanger Award for best female director of a first feature. You can watch it on Netflix right now.

Lucy Alibar is writing the script.

Although Newman will direct and oversee a rewrite, Beasts of the Southern Wild alum Lucy Alibar will write the Crawdads script. Based off her previous experience—she adapted Beasts of the Southern Wild from her own one-act play, Juicy and Delicious—there’s little reason to doubt she’ll bring the very best of Owens’s story to life. We don’t have any details yet as to what Alibar might tweak from the novel, but given the critical buzz that surrounded Beasts, we trust her with the pen in her hand.

There’s no release date or casting news on the horizon yet.

Hello Sunshine has not announced any casting or release date news, and with COVID-19 stalling production in Hollywood, it’s unlikely we’ll get this news any time soon. Fear not: In the meantime, if you’re already picked up Crawdads, you can read this year’s best books of the summer (and pray Hello Sunshine adapts them, too).

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