Leah Westfall can sense the presence of gold. It sings to her, thrumming and tingling. This secret talent helps keep her family afloat in their fading mining town in 1849 Georgia. When news of boundless California gold reaches town, her best friend Jefferson dreams of joining the burgeoning gold rush. Leah ignores the news—and Jefferson’s invitation to marry her and travel west together—until a sudden change of circumstances forces her to rethink her plans.
Dressed as a boy to avoid the dangerous man who’s searching for her, Leah begins her westward journey, first alone and then in the company of others. On this long and sometimes slow path, Leah and her companions face threats from buffalo, disease, raiders and the unforgiving landscapes of plains, mountains and the desert.
Rae Carson, author of the Girl of Fire and Thorns series, uses Leah's disguise to tease out subtle issues of gender and identity, a process echoed by the ambiguities of Jefferson's mixed ethnicity. Like many books about American expansionism, Carson's depiction of Native Americans can be problematic. But the focus of the story is on Leah's evolving relationships with her traveling companions—as her secret gold-witching talent lurks in the background, springing up at odd times to both frustrate and assist her.
Teens looking for the fast-paced excitement of The Hunger Games won’t find it here. But those hoping for a thoughtful and satisfying work of historical fiction can anticipate two more volumes of Leah’s adventures.
Jill Ratzan matches readers with books in a small library in southeastern Pennsylvania.