Walk on Earth a Stranger -- Rae Carson
Book 1 of Walk on Earth a Stranger
I absolutely adored Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns series and so, unintentionally, I might have done a little bit of compare and contrast; and I might have over-hyped myself with the announcement and publishing of Walk on Earth a Stranger.
Officially "Historical" books aren't my typical genre and for whatever reason that is, I couldn't possibly say. I've just never really been one to seek out historical fiction as part of my reading consumption, but every so often I run into a gem of one. Unfortunately, I'm conflicted as to whether or not Walk on Earth a Stranger is that gem.
The Story in Brief
Walk on Earth a Stranger takes place during the gold rush to California in 1849. Leah Westfall starts her journey from Georgia after the murder of her parents. As she is able to divine gold like a dowsing rod is supposed to find water, she somehow figures out that her greedy, creepy Uncle Hiram was the man who murdered her parents and stole their stash of gold dust. And since he has plans for her, she chooses to run, to catch up with her best friend, Jefferson, who has already left ahead of her, telling her that he'll meet her in Independence if she decides to go west with him.
And, of course, throughout Leah's adventure, as she travels, disguised as a boy for convenience and safety, using the name Lee McCauley, she meets many new people and makes friends and begins forming a kinship with many of them.
This little ragtag group of people, working together for a common cause is what I loved about the Fire and Thorns trilogy, as well as what I DO like about Walk on Earth a Stranger. Especially since, in this particular book, the characters are all from such different backgrounds and would all be the last to try and make friends with the people they are traveling with.
My Overall Thoughts
The book has a very monotonous feel to it, and while I self-proclaim my love for adventures, and this book actually spent the entire time traveling, I just couldn't quite get that adventurous feel of it. There were ups and there were downs; and there were exciting times and there were draggy times. And then there were also the "what the heck is going on here?" times. And while overall, Walk on Earth a Stranger was quite enjoyable, it stayed at a fairly flat progression throughout--it started off quite slowly, gave us a strong turn of events, and then just kind of maintained that same, flatness throughout the rest of the book.
Aside from the traveling and the few mishaps that happen during traveling and a few scattered events here and there (that felt like a textbook check-off list of "things that could happen when traveling west in 1849"), nothing else really happened. Even the looming base plot of "Uncle Hiram murdered my parents and wants to use me for my gold divining magic" seemed insignificant for a duration in the book.
Rae Carson is a great writer with excellent attention-to-detail. The book is still grounded in historical facts with detail to the correctness of prejudices and behaviors with a pretty good collection of culturally diverse characters gathered together on this journey to California. And while there are exciting moments, the book really read very much like the Oregon Trail game wherein anything and everything that could possibly happen to a troupe of travelers during those harsh times DID happen to Leah and her group: from cholera to broken axle wheels to crossing a river and losing animals... and even several deaths to boot.
Again, it was like a travel book check list of possible disasters to look out for during historical times of America. Historically accurate, great to know about, but uninspiring and lackluster in execution.
In summary: Yes, this book was enjoyable. No, nothing overly exciting actually jumps out at you. Yes, there was an adventure to be had. No, it wasn't really all that exciting and didn't quite elicit much in the "oh this is so much fun" department for me--not that harsh travels, asshole troupe leaders, and sickness and death is fun, but you know what I"m talking about adventure-wise, right? Yes, this book had a "friends-to-love" romance implanted... and no, there were no FEELS to be had.
In fact, I don't know whether to be disappointed about the romance or to be glad that maybe there's more development to look forward to in the next book--that the romance wasn't the foremost concern of the story plot, unlike many other YAs we encounter regularly. Because while I really dig the whole "friends-to-lovers" romantic plot device, I was having trouble accepting Jefferson and Leah as a couple if only because they rarely show any inclination towards romantic notions aside from a few words and a marriage proposal of convenience. Sure, Leah gets a little jealous when Jefferson seems to be spending so much time with another young girl in their traveling group. And sure, Jefferson says a few things here and there that make you wonder.
The romance just didn't feel very well developed and I sincerely hope that there's more to build on it in future books--future books I still have intentions of reading.