I think this book was on several best of YA lists last year and it ended up on my TBR list without me knowing much about it. When I got it from the library and realized it was a pioneer story, I honestly didn’t expect much. My parents were mormons and therefore obsessed with tales of pioneers, so my childhood was inundated with it. I was definitely not into it. Anyway, all this to say that I wasn’t really excited for this book, but decided to give it a try.
I’m very glad I did! Maybe my avoidance of pioneers for several decades made me more interested and maybe it’s just that Rae Carson wrote a really great story. Probably a little of both.
Leah Westfall lives in Georgia in a close-knit home with her parents. She’d been raised as a tomboy who was capable of doing outdoor chores and hunting, but since her father became ill, she’s really had to step it up and do more to keep their home afloat. Luckily, she has a secret skill. No one but her family knows that she can sense gold, not even her best friend. When the president announces that there’s oodles of gold in California, she knows that she has to get out there somehow. What follows is her story of trying to get across the country while staying safe and keeping her secret ability secret.
Lee is a great character who has to deal with a lot thrown at her in a short period. I loved her so much and can’t wait to see where she goes in the sequels. Carson also does a good job making the supporting characters memorable. Her friend Jefferson, her family, the members of her wagon company, and even random people she meets on the road are all written very well. Half the fun of this book was just seeing what randos Lee would meet next. I also found the plot propelling. I won’t give away why, but half the book was incredibly tense, almost a thriller. I just couldn’t put the book down because I wanted to find out what happened next.
Not only was this a very entertaining book, it also did a great job of including groups of people who haven’t historically been included in historical fiction. There are gay characters, black characters, native american characters. They’re not shoehorned in, they just exist naturally in the story like they existed back in 1849. I really appreciate books, especially young adult books that show a wide range of people. I’m glad that young people today will be growing up with a more nuanced view of what “historical accuracy” actually means.