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08 September 2015

Book Review | Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson | September 2015 | Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins | Hardcover $17.99

This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher via Edelweiss. The book is due to be released September 22, 2015.

★ ★ ★ ★

I was really super excited to get a chance to read this new title from the author of the Girl of Fire & Thorns series, which I liked very much (see the review here).

The first part of the book reminded me strongly of Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, simply because of the setting and the “girl escapes scary old dude by dressing as a boy and running west with the help of an escaped slave” plot. In fact, if you liked Under a Painted Sky, I can guarantee you'd like Walk on Earth a Stranger too. But it’s not a copycat story – many elements are similar, but I didn’t feel any sense of “I’ve read this story before...” either.

Carson did a great job with the whole atmosphere. The places described, the mannerisms and actions of the characters, even the thought patterns of the narrator feel like they really do fit in with the pre-Civil War rural South/West setting, without being too jolting or confusing for the modern reader. This is something I’ve come to admire in the best historical fiction.

American Progress, or Manifest Destiny, by George Crofutt, 1873
From the American Memory: American Women Collection of the Library of Congress

The magic element – Leah’s ability to sense gold – is important to the story but not the entire focus of it. She has this interesting ability that can help her find wealth, but it also puts her in danger from people who want to take advantage of her or people who think she’s some kind of witch. Other than that, though, she’s really just a very tough young woman who has to do the best she can to survive. She’s not a magical girl who can wave a wand and poof out of trouble; she has to face down that trouble as best she can, usually by herself with only her own wits and shooting skills to save her. I like that.

Leah is not perfect. She a teenager who is still learning about morality, still figuring out her feelings for other people and trying to decide how to act on them. I enjoyed reading about her adventures through her point of view precisely because she’s not perfect and her mistakes and flaws make her story interesting.

I was not particularly interested in the romance, at least at first. Was it really necessary to have Leah crushing on her best-friend-who-happens-to-be-a-guy? And was it really necessary to add a silly little love triangle on top of that? But in the end it didn’t really turn into the big ball o’ cliché that I feared. [Spoiler alert: I found the Reverend’s misguided marriage proposal scene terribly funny.]

From a genealogist's point of view, this story was interesting because of its focus on the very real, very dramatic California Gold Rush. The long period of westward migrations in America in the 1800's resulted in some pretty interesting little mysteries for many modern-day family historians. For example, I'm sure the fictional Joyners' great-great-great-great-grandchildren would now be wondering what exactly happened to this branch of their family on their journey to the West Coast, with only census, land, and probate records to help them piece the story together.

I’m curious as to the nature of the planned sequels. The last chapter is open-ended enough that there could be one, but satisfyingly final enough that the book can stand on its own.

Learn more about Rae Carson at her website.

Publication information: Carson, Rae. Walk on Earth a Stranger. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2015. EPUB.

Source: Electronic format review copy provided by publisher via Edelweiss.

Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

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