When I picked this book up, I didn’t really know what I was going to get. As I’ve mentioned before, pioneer books were my favorite genre as a kid, so the premise of this book caught my eye. I knew, though, that I would also be super critical of it for the same reason. As it turned out, I really liked Walk on Earth a Stranger!
I thought it stumbled a little in the beginning. The death of Lee’s parents and the arrival of Creepy Uncle happen very suddenly. I dislike Creepy Uncle, which I guess is a good thing, since he’s the villain. I thought he was too Obviously Evil, and that the townspeople were pretty freaking stupid to not realize that. His interactions with Lee have a very unsettling overtone which I would have called sexual in a pair of characters not related to one another. Thankfully, he is not present for most of the book, once the plot gets going!
My other concern was the “Lee disguises herself as a boy for most of the book” thing. I hate hate hate that trope! I don’t even know why; it’s just my biggest literary pet peeve of all. I was pleasantly surprised by how Rae Carson handled it. Lee doesn’t fall into the “Not Like Other Girls” trap; she enjoys the freedom she has as a boy, but misses being feminine and being able to interact with other women. Also: other characters can tell she’s a girl. That always strained my suspension of disbelief in other books.
As in all good pioneer literature, there are some absolutely brutal deaths. Crossing the American West on foot was neither safe nor easy, and Carson pulls no punches in demonstrating this. Adding to that, the author spends time building up and developing the side characters, so that the whole cast has depth.
I’m not a fan of romance, so I was happy that the Lee-Jefferson-Therese love triangle was kept to the background and handled carefully. It never overshadowed the plot at any point, and the characters didn’t waste time angsting.
The book is very light on the fantasy. Leah’s ability to sense gold is very important at the beginning, but dies down after that. I think, though, that later installments in the series will be more magic-heavy.
I do think the author fell into the trap that many modern historical-fiction writers do – being super preachy about historical issues. Yes, slavery and the oppression of Native Americans are bad. Show it, don’t have characters tell me that it’s bad. You don’t have to convince me. I get it.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book and am looking forward to reading more in the series!