Walk on Earth a Stranger

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A Young Adult western. LOVE IT. Hate that it is book one of a trilogy, because I just read it and it came out yesterday and now I probably have to wait a year for book two.

Now that the self-pity party is over, let’s get down to brass (gold) tacks.

In 1849, almost 16 year old Leah Westfall has a secret. She can feel gold. Sense it underground. She and her prospecting/farming family have gradually hidden away a sack of gold, enough to pay their keep for a lifetime, thanks to a mystical talent they must keep a secret. The one man her parents trusted with the knowledge is the one they shouldn’t have. His greed rips her life apart, destroys her family. Leah escapes her home state of Georgia, becoming Lee, a boy heading west to make his fortune in the California gold rush.

Along the way, she learns about friendship and loyalty, and that family isn’t always related by blood. She sees strength and beauty in people who, at first glance, seem weak and inconsequential.

I couldn’t put this one down. I went downtown today on the subway, face buried in the book, and missed my stop. Which I didn’t realize until two stops later. Then on the way home, I very nearly did it again.

Author Rae Carson knows her history of the California gold rush. The images of the hardships endured by prospectors travelling through unsettled plains are striking.  She paints a tough picture of life on the trail, not just the reality of carrying your entire existence in an oxen-pulled wagon across thousands of miles, but also the mindset needed to make it all the way, and the mindset that sometimes prevented success. There was prejudice, desperation and chauvinism, along with toughness, stubborness, and pure stupid faith in themselves and God.

Leah is an amazing heroine.  Strong, self-sufficient and self-aware, not once does her personality ring false.  Here is a girl who was raised to look after herself, who faced terrible tragedy, and decided she had to survive.  And she did, using her wits and her strength, but not losing her humanity or ability to learn from mistakes and hardship. And she has magic! I’m impressed with Carson’s ability to write such a girl, without it sounding like she is on soapbox.

All of Leah’s companions are written just as vividly. Every character is changed by life on the trail, and Carson didn’t forget a single one.

I know I know I KNOW that I am constantly judging books by their covers, and I’m not  supposed to (although everyone I know does), and this time is no exception.  But I am also judging this one on its title. It’s AWESOME.

This is a fabulous book for someone who wants to lose themselves in the Old West, from the comfort of an armchair.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is published by Greenwillow Books.

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