“Walk on Earth a Stranger” by Rae Carson has a title that didn’t grab me. But once I picked up the book, the story and the characters reached out, grabbed me by the throat, and immersed me in a story that took over my thoughts every waking minute until I turned the last page.
And it’s a book with staying power. Long after the last page is turned, the reader will still be thinking about the powerful characters and the themes of independence and the importance of friends. The protagonist, Leah Westfall, has an uncanny, magical ability. She can sense the presence of gold. In her home of Georgia, that comes in handy occasionally. But most of the gold that caused the gold-rush that ended with the removal of the Cherokee (which is obliquely referred to) has been removed from the ground. All that is left are some nuggets and flakes.
It’s the time of the California Gold Rush, and the brochures are all over town. When Leah’s best friend, Jefferson, decides to leave his abusive father and head west, he begs Leah to join him. She can’t leave her parents, but when they are killed a few days later, and her uncle comes to claim the land and Leah, she knows she must leave.
Leah dresses as a boy to escape her uncle’s search. He knows about her ability and is determined to use her to get rich. Leah believes that he killed her parents to get control of her. As she heads west to meet Jefferson in Independence City, she learns to be strong. And that’s a theme in the book — Leah’s strength. At times, she is stronger than the men around her. But even in her male disguise, she is kind and moral.
Just like in real life, the characters in the story grow and develop. Characters who are not nice change, but some people, just like in real life, don’t. There are many themes for discussion throughout the story. Prejudice (racial and gender), manifest destiny, the importance (or not) of riches, and the importance of friendship are a few topics that could make for great classroom conversations.
Carson is a strong writer. One scene during which a person’s leg gets amputated without anesthetic is so real and so horrifying that readers will grimace in sympathetic pain while reading about it. Carson makes the scenes come to life.
The biggest disappointment of the book? Finishing it and realizing that it will probably be a year before the sequel is in print.
Please note: This review is based on the advance review copy provided by the publisher, Greenwillow Books, for review purposes.
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