Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Walk on Earth a Stranger

Leah “Lee” Westfall has a secret: she can sense the presence of gold. Whether it’s a few flakes of gold dust in a riverbed or a nugget hidden under a floorboard, the metal calls to Lee, tugging at her fingers and tingling in her throat. Since her father fell ill, Lee’s gold sense (as well as her skill with a gun) has allowed her to help provide for her family. But when her beloved parents are both murdered, Lee runs away from her greedy uncle – the only other person who knows her secret. Disguising herself as a boy, Lee joins a wagon train headed for California, where the promise of gold beckons to settlers and opportunists longing to build a new life.

I’ve read and loved my fair share of fantasy novels peopled by witches, wizards, demigods and other magical creatures: books by J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett, Rick Riordan. But I also love this kind of fantasy: the kind that weaves a glittering thread of magic into a story set in our own world. In Walk on Earth a Stranger, Rae Carson brings the historical detail of the California Gold Rush to vivid life, tracing Lee’s journey from rural Georgia to Independence, Missouri, and then across the largely uncharted territory of the American West.

Carson draws her characters – even the unpleasant ones – with skill and compassion, and deftly evokes the harsh, powerful landscapes of the trail. Lee meets a wide variety of fellow travelers on her journey: genteel Eastern families, immigrants hoping for better lives, keen-eyed soldiers and explorers with their own private agendas. I especially loved Lee’s best friend, Jefferson, a brave, kind boy with Native American blood and his own reasons for leaving home.

The book’s title comes from a little-known lyric of a hymn I love: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. As she journeys along the trail to California, Lee considers what it means to “walk on earth a stranger.” An orphaned young woman with few legal rights and a potentially dangerous secret, Lee often feels like a stranger among her companions, even those who are kind to her. By the book’s end, though, Lee has learned a few lessons about friendship and community, about welcoming those who are strangers, and letting herself be welcomed. This is the first book in a trilogy (book 2 comes out this fall) and I can’t wait to see what happens next.


Katie Noah Gibson is a writer, editor, knitter and compulsive tea-drinker living in the Boston area with her husband. Born in Texas, she’s a lifelong Anglophile with a particular love for Oxford, but she loves to travel just about anywhere. You can find her at her blog, Cakes, Tea and Dreams, reviewing books at Shelf Awareness, or on Twitter at @katiengibson.


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