22 October 2015

Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae CarsonThe premise for Rae Carson's initial entry in her new Gold Seer trilogy had my name written all over it: a little bit paranormal, a strong female protagonist, and set in the mid-1800s. I could expect wagon trains, good action, and believable relationships. I'm happy to report that Walk the Earth a Stranger didn't let me down.

Here are my thoughts in a bullet review.

What's the basic plot? Leah (Lee) Westfall was born with a gift: she can feel (or divine) the presence of gold. This talent served her family well in the twilight of the Georgia gold rush, until her parents are brutally murdered, their secret stash of gold is stolen, and Lee is left an underage orphan under the care of her creepy, greedy uncle Hiram. With few resources and no one to turn to, Lee disguises herself as a boy and hurries to catch up with Jefferson McCauley, her childhood friend and neighbor who left a week earlier to join a wagon train to California. Although she turned down his offer to accompany him, she's counting on his promise to wait "a spell" in Independence, Missouri, before he heads west. The year is 1949, and Lee's talents will be welcome at Sutter's Fort, as gold fever overtakes a nation.

• Lee (and Jefferson): Lee is fifteen when the story opens, and as the only child to a family that must hide its wealth in order to hide her secret talent, she has learned to help her father on the farm. She is strong, hearty, and a great shot with a gun. It's reasonable that she could pass as a boy because she can do the work of any teenager and has the rough hands to prove it. She's smart, realistic, and resourceful, but not so clever as to not make mistakes. This is good because it makes her human and easy to relate to. Jefferson is her neighbor and her only true friend. He's been bullied for being half-Cherokee and he's been beaten by his mean father. He has nothing to lose by seeking a new life in the west. Their relationship seems inevitable, but it's not built on starry romance. Instead it will grow on friendship, understanding, and trust.

The journey west: Carson doesn't romanticize the overland journey west: People die, animals die, people make bad decisions, wagons break down, food runs out. In 1849, before the Homestead Acts, there were few trading posts, towns, or other resources between Independence and the west coast. It was a rough, scary journey. The dynamics of the wagon train also played a part in the success of making it to California: decisions have to be made and people have to pull together. When the issues cannot be resolved, everyone faces the consequences. In addition, for Lee, dressed as a boy and running from her uncle, even getting to the Mississippi River is fraught with danger, and we feel Lee's fear every step of the way.

Some doubts: The focus of the story is on Lee (and Jefferson), and thus not all of the secondary characters are fully developed. Some of the people and situations come across as representative of a kind: the white men who shoot buffalo and leave the carcasses behind, the short-sighted family that brings too many useless possessions, the dangers of crossing a river, a child who is almost lost on the prairie. Regardless, other characters are three-dimensional and grow and change over the course of the journey. I suspect these are the people we'll meet again in the follow-up books. I also had a couple of issues with some of the details surrounding the discovery of Lee's true gender. But these were minor problems for me.

General thoughts: Despite a few weaknesses, I like Lee, I love the time period, and I like the premise. Walk on Earth a Stranger is clearly the setup for the fuller story to come. We've been introduced to Lee, who has shown her strength, and Jefferson, who has lived up to expectations. We know the friends, and we also know the enemies. Lee's gold sense will be the future focus: If there is gold in them thar hills, then she will certainly be able to find it.

Recommendations: Yeah, yeah, I know. You're sick of trilogies, and you've vowed to stay away from YA. Get over it! Rae Carson's Walk on Earth a Stranger has a unique premise, great period details, lots of action, a believable romance, and no clear resolution. The story could go in several directions, and I suspect that Carson won't be sugar-coating life in mining camps -- especially for a young woman. This is a fast read, so pour your beverage of choice, settle into your favorite reading spot, and get ready to dream of gold.

Published by HarperCollins / Greenwillow Books, 2015
ISBN-13: 9780062242914
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


Vicki 10/22/15, 8:36 AM  

My dad only read books in this genre, but I'm really not a fan. Your review however is so compelling that I think I need to add it to my tbr list.

Daryl 10/22/15, 10:07 AM  

sounds like a winner ... thanks

rhapsodyinbooks 10/22/15, 12:18 PM  

I think this sounds great, even with the caveats. Adding it to my library request list!

Anonymous,  10/24/15, 10:40 AM  

This sounds more exciting to me than her Carson's other trilogy sounded (which is why I never read those books). I will add this to my library hold list!

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