Written by Rae Carson
Published September, 2015 by Greenwillow Books
Genres: Historical, Survival, Western
Purchase: The Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia
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Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more.
She also has a secret.
Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it.
When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.
From beginning to end Walk on Earth a Stranger was an incredible and exhilarating read. I was able to devour this 400-plus-page book in a matter of hours, not once stopping to pause.
“It turns out that a girl with all the friends in the world is still lonely when she’s keeping secrets.”
Walk on Earth a Stranger is my first Rae Carson novel and it won’t be the last. For years I’ve heard wonderful things about her previous series, The Girl of Fire & Thorns, but it’s unfortunately been swept into the maelstrom that is my TBR shelf.
Immediately I was able to get a firm grasp on our main character, Leah Westfall, who turns out to be an extremely strong and likeable character. It’s not until I become once again acquainted with heroines like Leah that I remember just how fantastic YA protagonists can be. I’m one of those readers that often dislikes the lead; preferring the secondary and supporting characters. I’m so thrilled that Walk on Earth on Stranger broke through my usual habit. Leah was fierce, determined and brave – but she still wasn’t afraid to pine over wearing pretty dresses now and then.
Walk on Earth a Stranger begins with Leah hunting on her family land. The western setting in this novel is fantastic and utterly immerses the reader – straight off the bat it was as if I’d slipped into a Western film. With a fast-paced, gripping plot, the pages just flew. From one drama to another, I couldn’t look away, nor did I want to pause and catch my breath. Leah’s journey from Georgia to California was absolutely exhilarating.
“Trust someone, Mama said. Her dying words, burned into my heart. But she was wrong. When there’s gold to be had, you can’t trust anyone. Not a single soul.“
After her parents’ deaths, Leah must escape her beloved family home and the possession of her uncle (who she finds out is responsible for their deaths). Her best and closest childhood friend, Jefferson, dreams of escape, too. He’s off to catch the gold rush in California, fleeing his abusive father. But, only Leah, her deceased parents and her murderous uncle Hiram know Leah’s deepest secret – she’s a goldseer – which means she can sense when gold is near. Having only utilised her talents for helping out her family, Leah sees the gold rush as a prime opportunity to escape and make a life for herself. She decides to meet up with Jefferson in Independence, but that means quite a large solo journey in order to reach him. Leah must disguise herself as a boy in order to start her new life.
Yes, the ‘disguises herself as a boy’ thing has been overused, but somehow in Walk on Earth a Stranger, I didn’t mind in the slightest. Leah as ‘Lee’ still manages to be a wonderful main character, her loyal mare Peony by her side. Along the way, ‘Lee’ meets many different types of people who both aid and hinder her (sometimes both). There are some really brilliant and memorable supporting characters here, which in turn create some really interesting and dynamic group relationships.
There’s stampedes, crushing-by-wagons, Indians, flatboats down the river rapids, drought, horse thieves and so much more. Everything within Walk on Earth a Stranger hints at danger, and at times it’s so suspenseful and nerve-wracking. I couldn’t help but become extremely fond of all the characters within Leah’s band of travellers, good or bad, just wanting to know who would reach California and who wouldn’t.
“Seems like I’ve been waiting for you to come around my whole life, Lee. But a man can’t wait forever and stay a man.”
Leah’s relationship with Jefferson also gives us a slow-burn romance. It isn’t until the events of Walk on Earth a Stranger that Leah begins to even consider what feelings she has for her childhood friend. Despite this, the ‘romance aspect’ of the book isn’t that prominent. Somehow, it doesn’t feel lacking.
The same could be said for Leah’s ‘gold sense’. While I think, yes, this technically is a ‘historical fantasy’, Leah’s ability to divine gold doesn’t really factor into things much. It’s purely a neat little flourish to what otherwise is a solid historical novel. Of course, her ability is her uncle’s driving factor and the reason why Leah is allowing herself to take so many risks, but there is little actual ‘gold-digging’ other than Leah coming across small pieces of gold now and then. I’m sure later on in the series, Leah’s ability will factor into things more, but to be honest, I didn’t especially begrudge that it wasn’t more of a highlight.
I absolutely cannot wait for Like a River Glorious. Somehow this book has become one of my favourite reads this year and I’m only sorry I didn’t read it sooner. Finally – a gorgeous book to match a gorgeous cover!