There was a lot that appealed to me in this book. First of all, there’s the western theme. I love a good western story, minus all the inherent racism and debauchery. There’s a handful of YA books that try it, but up until this point, I haven’t read anything historical fiction and fantasy and I absolutely LOVED it. It hit all the points I wanted, from the North Carolina setting to the OREGON TRAIL to the first hints of the California Gold Rush Fever.
Given the Oregon Trail nature of this story, there’s a lot of traveling. The historian in me delighted in every historical landmark and reference. I’m honestly tempted to look and see if any of our side characters here are real people? There were certainly real circumstances and real locations. Even if you haven’t read up on this period of history, it’s very accessible. And honestly now I’m DYING to play Oregon Trail again.
But the traveling? Often, this can bore readers, especially if it’s just walking and conversation and walking and conversation. You need to have events along the way. Rae Carson filled the time so well that I barely noticed they were traveling. There were always secrets in danger of being revealed, and mortal dangers on the road.
I just genuinely loved this book, I really did.
I do want to address some choices that Rae Carson made in Walk on Earth a Stranger, mainly in the perspective of women as property, discussions of slavery, and most prominently the racist attitudes against Native Americans and perpetuating stereotypes. As I found in The Girl of Fire and Thorns, Carson approaches difficult topics with respect. I do believe there’s a difference between throwing around racist terms and stereotypes, and addressing them. The American West and this period in history was fraught with harmful attitudes toward the non-White, non-male. While the word “Indian” is used repeatedly in reference to Native Americans in the book, racist attitudes are repeatedly attacked. A couple time, the word “savage” is used, and as I felt the wrongness of the word… I knew Lee felt it as well. Carson chose to show that there are all sorts of people in this world, and while there are those who put black marks on history, there are also many who do not hold the same ideals. I think she managed the whole situation very well, while still choosing to address it. And I think it’s important to address it, rather than pull out all the “unpleasantness” and pretend it never happened.
The characters – I loved the characters! The side characters were not as developed as Lee, who was so immersed in her own web of lies and fear that she became friends with many and didn’t even realize she was doing it. In the same way, I felt that we readers got acquainted with the other characters. The side characters grew and changed more than I find in many novels, and I was content with them.
I was impressed by the pacing, the writing, the story, the characters, and the setting. I also enjoyed the narrator, who I thought voiced Lee well. Now that we’ve reached California, I’m excited to see what adventures come next! This is a great book for anyone who reads YA or slightly older (Lee is feels like New Adult-aged to me) and enjoys the American West and traveling stories and just a sprinkling of magic.