Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger

Posted October 5, 2015 by Lyn Kaye in book review, Lyn / 6 Comments

Book Review: Walk on Earth a StrangerWalk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson
Series: The Gold Seer #1
Published by Greenwillow Books on September 22nd 2015
Genres: young adult, magical realism, historical
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: Won
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four-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.

This is going to be somewhat odd – I really liked Girl of Fire and Thorns, but I never finished the series. I felt somewhat bad about it, because this author is amazing. When she announced her next book, I was thrilled – I was going to jump all over her new series. Even though I am not a fan of western novels, religion or this time period, I couldn’t pass up the Oregon Trail comparison. If you didn’t play the video game in your youth, my heart cries for you.

I won a copy of the signed ARC from Anya (thank you!) and I picked it up right away. Then I wasn’t able to put it down.  I was so happy to slip right back into Carson’s world.

So how did this book fair? There were some great parts, and then some parts that baffled me and left me a bit frustrated.

Border Leaf

One of the best features of the book is, hands down, the characters. I really liked Leah, and I feel that it is about time that we had a new breed of kick-ass girls added into YA. Leah hunts, liked to dig in the dirt, gets her hands dirty, and basically runs a bit wild on her family’s farm in Georgia. But that doesn’t mean that she turns her nose up to some of the finer things in life. She enjoys skirts and feels embarrassed that she doesn’t look like a pretty, proper girl when she shows up to school. I’ve been dying for a female YA character that isn’t 100% anti-feminine qualities. I’m highly thankful for a teen that I could relate to: one minute, you’re painting your nails, and then the next, you’re climbing trees or rounding up chickens. There is such a thing as blending female and male qualities into one character, and I appreciate that there is a girl who straddles both gender identities.

The side characters also stole the show in this one. I really favored the fact that there wasn’t a straight up love triangle, but that there was a bit of competition between Leah and another girl. Instead of resorting to shaming and the standard girl-on-girl hate, Carson handled this situation with finesse and set up where Leah was jealous, was embarrassed when she was called out on her actions, and then ended up a friend with her “rival”. I understand that there is going to be natural competition in real life over someone, but I highly dislike when is devolves in name calling and general cattiness. It is great that an author set up an example on how to handle those feelings, by letting the audience sympathize, and then labeling Leah’s emotions with the proper words and how her actions and emotions were a bit misplaces, yet genuine. It is so easy to just hate, but it takes a lot of heart to relate.

Out of the big cast, however, one woman stood out the best: Mrs. Joyner. Nothing makes me happier than for an antagonist to become an ally. It makes me even happier when I don’t see the change of heart coming. While Leah is a magical, paranormal symbol in the story, Mrs. Joyner is the real world character that draws attention to the issues and struggles faced by the wives and women during this time. When the mother and wife came into the picture, I simply just brushed her off, and really just thought nothing of her except for, “Typical snooty privileged white woman.” I wasn’t prepared for her to become my favorite in the story. The women of the westward migration were often forced to go against their will, blindly following their husbands, while expected to care for the children, the needs of the party, facing the same dangers as the men, but provided no safeguard against the situation. The women of status faced some tough times: they had no guns, little knowledge of self defense, and little autonomy. They were saddled with expectations that were not demanded of them during finishing school or their upbringing. The females were taught to behave and act a certain way, and then when the migration hit, these women were forced out of their elements into a strange new world. It was like raising a dog in comfort and then forcing the creature out into the wild. The confused dog doesn’t fair well when the survival skills are bred out of them, and neither did the women. Carson doesn’t beat us over the head with gender issues, but instead, allows her characters to show instead of tell. Mrs. Joyner’s transformation and attitude adjustment felt like a personal victory for the unsung women of the gold rush.

The magical realism was a great touch on the story, flavoring American history with a twist. It wasn’t a huge part of the novel, but, in a way, it didn’t need to be at this point. Leah’s abilities triggers the important conflicts in the novel, and while her power was amazing, the book was more of an origin story on Leah before the arc turns towards her gifts. I liked the light touch of paranormal in a historical-heavy background. It added a certain sophisticated touch to the story line.

Although I did quite enjoy this book, there were some details that bothered me. While I liked how the romance situation played out, I wasn’t a big fan of the romance, period. I didn’t really feel the chemistry between Leah and Jefferson. It was more of a strong friendship instead of romantic interest.

Now to the big hot topic of the novel: the subject of the Native Americans. Debbie Reese from the American Indians in Children’s Literature dedicated a post to the notes of the treatment of the Native Americans in the novel.  While I really loved the treatment of gender issues in the novel, there was some personal frustration over the role of the American Indians in the book.  Religion, gender roles and slavery were discussed and explored, but the Native Americans didn’t fare so well in the book. The people were not “villainized” directly, and there was representation in the novel, but it seemed that the subject was glossed over, and never explored fully about the realities of the treatment of the natives during the move westward. I think it is important to point this out and discuss cultural aspects of the novel, and I believe that this did kick off an important point of how American schools have watered down the curriculum of American Indians. Americans still are not fully comfortable encroaching on Native Americans, and I believe that is clear to see in Walk on Earth a Stranger. There are two other books to address these concerns, luckily.

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As I stated to someone, this book is “golden”. I frankly enjoyed watching a girl come into her own, facing some weaknesses that she didn’t even know she possessed, and sending a message that “family” can be blood or bonds. There were some troubling parts of the book, and I appreciate the different voices offering assistance for the entire community. I liked this one, more than Girl of Fire and Thorns, and I am quite excited to read the next part of the trilogy.

6 responses to “Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this despite some issues. I have the e-arc, and checked out a hard copy from the library, but haven’t gotten to it yet. First, yay to the Oregon Trail. My heart also weeps for anyone that doesn’t understand the joy of finishing your work early enough to enjoy its pixelated, green goodness. Second, growing up in WY, I went to school with a handful of native students, and there were tribes across the state, of course, so it bums me out that as a society, they don’t get quite the right treatment from this book (not to sound like a smug dick–it would bum me out even if I wasn’t from WY). You are right that she has the rest of the series to explore the past with a more truthful light. Great review! I’m excited to read this one!
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