An impressive display of historical information and descriptions, but nothing about the plot grabbed my attention.
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?
I’m taking an AP US history class this year, and we just passed the Gold Rush Era, so when I saw this book at a local bookstore, I decided “what the heck, let’s try it.” I wasn’t really sure how the premise would translate into a compelling story, and after reading it, I feel basically the same way.
The beginning of this book was really weak for me. It lagged in the way where I was happy when important characters got murdered because it meant the plot was finally going somewhere. The main character, Lee, was very vanilla in the exposition–young and capable, but nothing special.
About a third of the way in (and this isn’t a short book, by the way) the plot finally started to pick up, and I was drawn back into the story. Carson does an amazing job describing the trails Lee faced crossing the continent on her way to the Californian gold fields. I learned a lot of details reading this book, and I definitely felt like I had gone back in time when I was reading it. Sometimes, the descriptions were so impressively vivid or gritty that I was dragged into the story, but more often, I was left with a faint sense of exhaustion and little else. After powering through the second half of the book in one sitting last weekend, I was emotionally exhausted--I felt, in a way, that I had traveled across America with her.
While the descriptive strength of this book can definitely be praised, it crowded out the plot in many ways. Yes, there were somewhat dramatic moments at periodic intervals in the story, but there was no clear crescendo for me; the plot never felt like it was building to a pinnacle moment. The pacing was slow and choppy. If you enjoy a meditative read that lags to allow for historical accuracy, this is a perfect fit for you. Unfortunately, I was looking for a gripping historical adventure, and Walk on Earth a Stranger left me disappointed.
There were still a lot of things I liked about this book, however. I loved a lot of the side characters, and I loved that I got to see each of them grow and develop throughout the story. Lee herself clearly grows as the book progresses, and by the last chapter, I saw her as a distinct YA hero, instead of the bland stereotype that she started the book as. Honestly, the only character that remained frustratingly flat was the love interest. (The romantic plot of WOEAS is barely present, and the story would have been stronger without it being shoved in as an additional motivation for Lee, in my opinion.)
The most powerful part of this book–for me–was its expose of sexism in society. Though the book takes place nearly two centuries ago, the sexism it demonstrates is still applicable to modern readers. Lee’s journey across the country, disguised as a man, clearly juxtaposed the way people view hardworking men and hardworking women, with a plainspoken quality that still resonates today.
WOEAS is clearly the first book in an adventure trilogy. I believe that the series could pick up in the next book, now that all of the characters have been introduced and the setting has been established (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, sorry for the vagueness). I was a fan of Lee’s by the last chapter, and I want to see some of the background characters stick around for a little while longer. The fantasy part of the plot was barely present for this book, but it will definitely build in the second one, and I’d like to see how that affects the story.
All in all, a very descriptive, but in the end disappointing, book.
What do you think? Have you read this book? How did you feel about Lee’s character throughout the book?