Lee Westfall has the gift of divining gold. But her ability to ferret out gold nuggets won’t do her any good unless she can get to California for the Gold Rush. Lee must make the 2,500 mile journey all while impersonating a boy if she’s going to make. Oh, Pioneer! Walk on Earth A Stranger is a heart wrenching and magical story.
From the book flap:
Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?
Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns series, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.
It’s 1849 and 17 year old Lee Westfall lives in small town in the South with her mother and ailing father. The gold rush that established their town has just about dried up and people are starting to pick up stakes and head for the golden hill of California. But to get out West you must take the wagon trail nearly 2,500 hundred miles mostly on foot. With Lee’s dad barely able to get out of bed, even a trip to a neighboring town is out of the question. When’s Lee’s best friend Jefferson asks her to go California she reluctantly turns down the offer. But in the course of a day, Lee’s life is charged for the worse and a trip out West soon seems like her best chance at survival. Lee finds herself striking out for gold country alone in hopes of meeting up with Jefferson and staring a new life. But in order to make it she’ll have to pass herself off as a boy, dodge robbers, work as a cattle hand…do whatever it takes to survive.
Lee Westfall is the girl who “hunts and farms and pans for gold because her daddy never had sons”. The book begins with a detailed description of Lee hunting, tracking and killing a deer single-handedly. But Lee is no overly masculine tomboy. Carson describes Lee and a girl who happens to be able to do most of the things her male counterparts can do to survive. So when Lee is forced to chop off all her hair and go from Ms. Westfall to Mr. Westfall we totally believe it. And we FEEL it! We feel how alone Lee is after her parents are killed and her best friends runs off. And we feel how scared Lee when she must start a journey that is more likely to get her killed than anything else. And we feel how determined Lee is when things start to go wrong (very wrong and very quickly) but she keeps going anyway. And we feel the possibility of a relationship with Jefferson, if only she can stay alive long enough to find him.
Walk on Earth A Stranger is billed as a story about a girl who has a magic ability to divine gold, but that is the least interesting element of this story. This is the story about love, loyalty, friendship, greed, gender equality, racism and survival. Carson uses her words to paint a landscape of Gold Rush Era America and the brave souls who decided to Go West to start a new life.
Judge a Book by its Cover: The cover is beautiful. The golden sunset, the green valley, the swirling gold around the skirt of Lee’s dress. The cover is beautiful and thankfully the book lives up to it.
Audiobook Narration: The idea of an audiobook which begins in the South scared me. The wrong reader can leave on the drawl and twang too thick making the book sound like a bad country western tune. But audio reader Erin Mallon gives Lee a strong steady voice with the right amount of Southern charm. Here’s a sample:
Kick-Ass Factor: We learn from the beginning of the book that Lee is definitely strong enough to hold her. But when Lee starts living as a HE rather than a SHE when really see her potential. As a boy, Lee is an asset not a liability. She is not assumed to be weak of frail (which she’s not) when she meets people as a boy. Lee does a kick ass job of holding her own as a dude.
Body Count: History lesson- many people tried to make it West by wagon trail, many died. It’s a fact.
The Chosen One: Lee’s gold-finding ability is certainly unique, but it’s also very secret. Lee is smart enough not to broadcast her gift to the world so we don’t have to spend the book reading about people telling Lee how much of a special snowflake she is.
He Said/She Said:
Carson has a way with words. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
“Sunshine in the dirt, warmth in winter” Lee describes a gold nugget found in the snow.
“I’ve been waiting for you to come around my whole life, Lee. But a man can‘t wait forever and stay a man” Jefferson’s parting words to Lee give me chills!
Bizarre Love Triangle: There is clearly a connection between Lee and Jefferson, but a romance is hard when you’re pretending to be a boy.
Open tab/Last call: Lee’s fantastic ability to divine gold is such a minor element in Walk on Earth A Stranger. This is book one in the Gold Seer Trilogy and I have a feeling Lee’s abilities will play a large role in book two. Line up the Goldschlagger shots, we’re ready.
Walk on Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson, Greenwillow Books, September 22, 2015, 448 pages