Thursday 6 July 2017

#CBR9 Book 64: "Walk on Earth a Stranger" by Rae Carson

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Leah "Lee" Westfall lives on a small farm in Georgia, trying to make ends meet with her parents. The only reason they're really managing to survive at all, is Lee's unusual ability, she can sense gold. It calls to her and is the reason her father is known in town as "Lucky". No one but her parents know about her gift, or so Lee believed. Then she comes home from town one day to discover both of her parents shot (her mother is still just barely alive, and warns Leah to be careful with her last breaths) and the sack of gold dust they had hidden under the floor boards missing.

Her neighbour, sixteen-year-old, half Native Jefferson McCauley is planning on heading west to California, as the news that gold has been found there has just been announced. He wants Lee to come with him, but she's reluctant to leave her family's farm. Then her uncle Hiram shows up, now her legal guardian, and with her gold sense, Lee can tell he's been near a lot of gold dust lately. She's suddenly all too certain who's behind her parents' murder, and once her uncle starts dropping hints, she begins to fear that her father may have told him about Lee's abilities. She regrets not going away with Jefferson, but enlists the help of a friendly shopkeeper in town, cuts her hair, dresses in men's clothing and runs away while her uncle is distracted.

Lee needs to make her way west and try to find Jefferson again, all the while staying out of her uncle's clutches. She quickly discovers that life on the road is dangerous and meets several set-backs before she manages to get a place on a caravan going towards California. Can she keep her real identity hidden with so many people around? Will anyone discover her special gold sense? Will the caravan actually survive the hard and challenging journey across the country to the gold fields of California?

I don't know exactly what I was expecting from this book, but it certainly wasn't a gritty, depressing version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books crossed with Oregon Trail. There are SO many horrible things that happen to these people, guys. If this hadn't been the start of a trilogy, I would have seriously suspected they would all just be killed in various gruesome ways over the course of the story. Rae Carson's first trilogy, Girl of Fire and Thorns, did NOT prepare me for the level of hardship throughout this book.

With the fairly shocking beginning for poor Leah and the continuing, probably impeccably researched story, full of all sorts of misery, I can't say the book was enjoyable and it made it very difficult for me to get attached to any of the characters, as I never knew who was going to kick the figurative bucket next. I suppose I should be happy that Ms Carson didn't simplify or sugar coat what was probably a very dangerous and arduous trek for a lot of people, so desperate to get to find gold that they would risk everything, including their own lives and those of their families in search of prosperity.

Set in the late 19th Century, there were obviously a lot of less than enlightened attitudes with regards to women, "confirmed bachelors", Native Americans and persons of colour in this story. Lee has to hide her identity for much of the story, and mainly seems to be able to do it quite well for a long time. This was clearly also a time when injuries and illness were a lot more dangerous, which is partly what makes the story so harrowing. While struggling to reach the west, the band of travellers keeps getting reduced, but the ones who make it are a very tightly knit group, and I'm an absolute sucker for found family stories.

One advantage to waiting so long to read this book, is that I won't have too long to wait until the third book in the trilogy is released later this year. I'm hoping that with the difficult journey completed, the next books may be more entertaining and uplifting.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm not entirely sure what I think about this cover. I think the giant gold letters proclaiming the title are unnecessarily large. I think the cover image should have been given more prominence, instead it almost becomes an afterthought. I'm also not entirely happy with the way Leah's "gold sense" has been visually portrayed, but I guess it's hard to get across what is basically just a mental thing.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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