Title: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Author: Rae Carson

Pub info: 2015 by Greenwillow Books (Harper Collins)

Genre & Audience: historical fiction/fantasy ; YA

Subjects/themes: California Gold Rush, 19th Century American History, friendship, prejudice, tragedy, justice

Shelf: {  purchased  }

Verdict: 3.5 / 5 stars

Gold is in my blood, in my breath, even in the flecks in my eyes.

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.

The acclaimed Rae Carson begins a sweeping new trilogy set in Gold Rush-era America, about a young woman with a powerful and dangerous gift.
— Goodreads


            Walk on Earth a Stranger  follows Lee, a young woman faced with an appalling tragedy and an even more dangerous gift—the ability to divine gold. After her desperate flight from her hometown and everything she knows with a myriad of others traveling to the land of promise—California—she encounters everything from bandits to liars to stampeding buffalo. All the while she must keep her gift (and her identity) a secret for fear of being snatched away for her valuable gift to find gold.

            Walk reminded me of the Dear America books that fascinated me years and years ago. Without letting her narrative become bogged down by details, Carson provides the reader with a glimpse into the immense dangers and every day struggles that awaited the pioneers. A wide cast of characters in Lee’s wagon train completes the group and provides a colorful backdrop for Lee’s journey. This group also functions as a little slice of the United States at the time—an important addition—given the variety of travelers who braved the treacherous roads West.

            Lee is a rugged and capable character. She acts with strength when faced with danger, and compassion even when there is a chance her secret might be revealed. She handles a gun just as well as any man—and not because she magically had a natural ‘flair’ for it (or because the narrative’s action requires it)—but because for her family, it was a necessity. Lee’s primary struggle rests with her fear of trust, and this fear seems extremely valid to the reader, given her experiences. The secondary characters nearly all fade when compared to Lee, however, with the exception of Mrs. Joyner, whose transformation throughout the novel is one of the best things about it.

            The biggest weakness with this book was the pacing. While there was no point when I actively wished to put the book down, I found that the plot took quite a while to get going, and it seemed to work in fits and starts. I also felt that Jefferson’s character was a little underdeveloped—I would have liked to have gotten to know him a little better.

            That being said, I would definitely recommend this book to readers fascinated by the American West, 19th century history, and the Gold Rush. The story of the American West is integral to our identity as a nation, and Carson’s descriptions of the vast wilderness that separated our coasts made me feel even more admiration for all those who risked their lives along the trail.   

Comparable reads: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee.