Walk on Earth a Stranger: Gold Seer Trilogy, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Walk on Earth a Stranger: Gold Seer Trilogy, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Girl hides as boy for harrowing journey west in taut tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Includes the gritty details of what it must have been like to cross the U.S. from Georgia to California in a wagon train in 1849, including the geography; the most common hardships, dangers, and diseases; and how many miles characters were able to travel per day (not many). It also shows the uneasy relations between African-Americans and whites before the Civil War and between whites and Native Americans during the westward expansion.

Positive Messages

Racism and gender inequality both explored. We see the main character, Lee, bristle under the unfairness of both. Incredible hardship brings out the best in many people and the worst in others. There’s a freedom in trusting others with our secrets.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lee is a mix of tough exterior, to face life’s incredible hardships, and rich interior, pondering the unfairness of life. She’s hard on herself when she doesn’t speak up for others or stop bad things from happening; through that reflection she discovers her own power and begins to use it. She’s extremely brave and risks revealing her dangerous secrets to save others. And she's determined to be her own person rather than belonging to a man the way most wives did in 1849.

Violence

Just about everything that can go wrong on a wagon train goes wrong: People die from cholera, come down with measles, die of heat exhaustion, die in childbirth, die getting crushed by a wagon, and need a leg amputated. Some of the deaths are quite sad. The leg-amputation scene and a childbirth scene are long and gory. The main character comes home to find her parents have been murdered with guns. She also gets robbed at gunpoint on the road and fears for her life. There are mentions of her baby brother who only lived for three days and women who have died in childbirth. Measles blankets are left for Native Americans to find. Animals don't have it good, either. A milk cow dies from a rattlesnake bite, oxen die of exhaustion, and cruel hunters shoot at buffalo indiscriminately, pull out their tongues and a few other bits, then leave the rest to rot.

Sex

The main character must wrap her chest tightly and work hard to hide her period to keep pretending to be a man. There's some hand-holding and a couple of botched marriage proposals.

Language

Infrequent use of "damned," "damn," and "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Men smoke pipes and cigars in a handful of scenes. Talk of moonshine, and robbers are drunk on corn liquor. Laudanum is used for illness and an amputation.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson (the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy), is the first in the very promising Gold Seer trilogy. It stars Lee, a girl whose parents are murdered in Georgia by her uncle, who wants to exploit her "witchy" ability to find gold. She disguises herself as a boy to evade her uncle and heads west to California. Just about everything that can go wrong on a wagon train goes wrong: People die from cholera, come down with measles, die of heat exhaustion, die in childbirth, die getting crushed by a wagon, and need a leg amputated. Some of the deaths are quite sad. The leg-amputation scene and a childbirth scene are long and gory. In keeping with the time, plenty of men smoke pipes and cigars and some drink moonshine to drunkenness. The story tackles tough topics such as racism and gender inequality with sensitivity, owing mostly to the wonderful main character: Lee is a mix of tough exterior, to face life’s incredible hardships, and rich interior, pondering the unfairness of life.

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What's the story?

When Lee's best friend Jefferson proposes marriage and a trip west to California, Lee balks. She has her parents on the Georgia farm to think about, and besides, the proposal seems kind of half-hearted. But when she gets home one day, she’s shocked to find both her parents dead and their stash of gold gone. She easily traces the crime to her Uncle Hiram; she has "witchy" powers she's kept hidden -- or so she thought -- that can find gold when it's close by, and Hiram has bits of gold dust all over him. She knows she must escape, but Jefferson is already gone and has promised to wait in Independence, Missouri, for her only until the wagons move out. In haste, she cuts her hair short and dons her father's old clothes. She moves fast on her horse until robbers find her. It’s only the first of many hardships ahead.

Is it any good?

Readers will root for sublime hero Lee as she disguises herself in men’s clothes and takes on each hardship in this hair-raising adventure. It's hard to imagine wanting to follow anyone west with a wagon, cholera, measles, heatstroke, stampeding buffalo, and trigger-happy leering men for company, but readers will want to follow Lee.

The hint of fantasy -- Lee's special, secret ability to sense gold nearby -- adds to the tension and opens up some possibilities for the rest of the series. The serious looks at racism and gender inequality add a poignancy to WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER and make it a great story to read and discuss with teens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the time period in which Walk the Earth a Stranger is set. What did you learn about life in 1849?

  • What was difficult about being a woman in 1849? What do you think about Lee's decision to disguise herself? Besides protection from her uncle, what else did she gain from it?

  • Will you read Book 2? What do you think will happen to Lee?

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