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Kya’s book, The Sea Shells of the Eastern Seaboard, by Catherine Danielle Clark, arrives in her mailbox. After Tate sent the samples to a publisher, Kya signed a contract with them for multiple books based on her collections. The publisher advanced her $5,000 for the first book and promised more royalties to come. Kya spent some of the money on improvements to the shack like electricity, running water, a full bathroom, and new appliances. When she receives the book, she invites Tate to stop by for a copy.
Jumpin’ tells Kya that developers are draining the swamp to build hotels. She goes to the courthouse to see if there is a deed to her land. Her grandfather had the property surveyed and after she pays back taxes of $800, Kya gets a deed in her name for 310 acres of lagoons, marsh, oak forests, and a long private beach.
Tate comes to the shack and Kya gives him a copy of her book, inscribed “To the Feather Boy / Thank You / From the Marsh Girl.” They talk about restarting their friendship, but Kya isn’t ready to fully forgive or trust him.
Joe reports to the sheriff that Jumpin’ said Kya was in Greenville the night of the murder. Jumpin’ said he told Kya Chase was dead when she returned two days later. Tate was there and told Joe that she went to Greenville to see her publisher and that he told Kya how to purchase a bus ticket. After lunch, Miss Pansy Price comes and tells the sheriff that she and some employees from Kress’s Five and Dime saw Kya get on the bus at 2:30 pm on October 28th and return at 1:16 p.m. on the 30th. Ed and Joe check the bus schedules and determine Kya could have come back and returned to Greenville late on the night of the murder without being seen.
A man in a military uniform arrives at Kya’s shack. When she sees his scar, she remembers an incident on Easter before Ma and everyone left. That day Pa attacked Ma with a hot poker from the fireplace. When Jodie intervened, Pa struck him across the face with the poker. Kya had repressed the memory, but when she sees the scar on this man’s face, she realizes he is her brother Jodie.
Jodie tells Kya he served two years in Vietnam and will continue in the army before becoming an engineer. Jodie feels guilty for abandoning Kya and asks for her forgiveness. He also tells her that Ma died two years earlier of leukemia. Kya is devastated and can’t understand why Ma never came back. She learns that in the letter Pa burned Ma had asked to come for the children. Pa wrote back and threatened to beat the children if she returned. Ma lived with her sister Rosemary in grief and didn’t interact with others. Jodie shows Kya a large box of paintings Ma made of the children, including one of Tate and Kya when they were very young. Jodie encourages Kya to get back together with Tate. After three days, Jodie leaves Kya with his address and phone number.
Joe and Ed search Kya’s shack and find a red wool hat that matches the red fibers found on Chase’s jacket at the scene.
Months after Jodie’s visit, Tate leaves his grandfather’s compass in a milk carton on the feather stump. Kya isn’t ready to trust Tate.
A lab report matches the fibers from Kya’s red wool hat to the fibers found on Chase’s jacket. A fisherman named Rodney Horn comes to the police station and tells Ed and Joe about an incident he and a friend observed from their boat at Cypress Cove, which establishes a motive for Kya to kill Chase.
Just before Christmas, Kya drives her boat to Jumpin’s ahead of a storm. The wharf is in fog. Jumpin’ sees her and tries to warn her. She turns around but the sheriff and several other boats chase her into the storm and surround her. Kya’s boat strikes another, two men board her boat, and they arrest her for the murder of Chase Andrews.
Kya's royalty check marks an opportunity she has never had—the ability to choose how to incorporate the outside world into her life. Before the publication of her book, she had been forced to tolerate the treatment of others in exchange for companionship. She lived with her abusive father because she was a child and couldn't leave. She stayed with Chase despite his mistreatment of her because it was better than being alone. She also had to live extremely frugally, selling or trading what she could catch to complement what she could grow. These circumstances created their own necessary compromises. With money, Kya can incorporate her desired comforts into her life in the marsh without compromising her solitude or the natural world of which she is a part. She can do for herself what Chase once offered to provide.
Jodie's arrival gives Kya a chance to begin to heal some of the traumas she experienced as a child. He brings with him an explanation of their mother's disappearance, which is both instructive and heartbreaking. The story allows Kya to see her mother as a human being, which is an important stage of maturity denied to her until now. Ma's leaving is framed as a kind of questionable bravery in Kya's understanding, as it is compared with the actions of some animal mothers who leave their young in times of crisis. The animals can intuit that their young will not survive, but the mother will have the opportunity to try again when the chance of survival is better. In Ma's case, the chance never came. Kya, while accepting this natural truth, cannot help but wish that her mother had transcended that biological impulse.
The men in Kya’s life consistently demonstrate cowardice. Her father takes out his frustration and pain on his family, physically abusing his wife and children, causing pain to the vulnerable. Jodie expresses guilt in leaving Kya behind and acting out of pure self-preservation. Chase cannot challenge his accepted place in society, even in the interest of pursuing what might have been an important, revelatory relationship. Tate's cowardice, which he works to overcome, is wrapped in the fact that he understood that Kya was fundamentally incapable of existing outside her marsh. Rather than work to reconcile his relationship with Kya with his need to explore beyond Barkley Cove, Tate left and reenacted the abandonment of Kya by everyone she loved as a child. It is telling that the two men who come back to her are those able to admit their mistakes and work to repair the damage they've inflicted. Their ability to approach Kya on her terms and accept her is also vital to atoning for their youthful mistakes.