Comparing The Alex Crow and Walk on Earth a Stranger is tricky. One might think comparing two books is like deciding between Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples. In this case, it’s more like comparing apples to celery. Or comparing a goldfish to a shoe. These books are so completely different, a comparison is very, very tricky.
Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson is the story of Lee, a 16-year-old girl living in Virginia in 1849. Lee has a gift that comes in very useful in this time and place – she can sense gold. Nuggets buried in dirt, dust in a stream, or even jewelry around someone’s neck, gold takes her breath away and calls to her. Lee and her parents have used this talent wisely. They are no richer nor poorer than anyone else in their small town, and they are a close, happy trio. One day, this all goes wrong. Lee returns home to find her parents murdered and their hidden stash of gold stolen. Disguising herself as a boy, Lee flees to California with her best friend Jefferson, drawn by the recent discovery of gold in the area.
I really enjoyed Walk on Earth a Stranger. Historical fiction is my cup of tea, and this was a well-done story about a time period that doesn’t get much play in YA fiction. The bit of fantasy thrown into the otherwise realistic story is also a fun touch. The only downfall of the story, if there was one, is that it was slightly predictable. It follows the format that so many other novels follow – young orphan gets by with plucky attitude and talents, has a number of minor adventures, and *SPOILER* confronts the bad guy at the end. However, this doesn’t detract from the story in any way. I finished this and felt for sure it was going to be the winner of my two books.
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith doesn’t summarize well. I read the LOC summary and thought “This book sounds like four unrelated stories crammed into one.” Primarily, it is the story of a boy named Ariel, who is the sole survivor of a massacre in his Middle Eastern Village. Ariel is taken from his refugee village and “adopted” by an American army major. He is placed in a small West Virginian town with a family that includes Max, a boy only 16 days older than Ariel. Max’s father works for a research group who is creating all sorts of top-secret devices and incredible projects, including bringing animals like the Polynesian Crow back from extinction. (So what if this de-extinction process has the small side effect of making the animals suicidal?) Mixed in with Ariel’s stories of his present and past are diary entries of an arctic expedition gone wrong and sections about the “melting man,” who is listening to Joseph Stalin talk in his head and is building a giant bomb in his U-haul.
The different stories, as crazy as it sounds, tie together in the end. Smith drops hints as the novel progresses and the reader begins to see how these are all related. Each different story has a clear voice and style so there is no doubt which narrative one is reading and no confusion, which really surprised and pleased me. Even though there are unusual elements to the story, it’s definitely not a fantasy and would fall under the emerging genre of Realistic Fantasy.
I was so sure Walk on Earth a Stranger was my winner, I didn’t start The Alex Crow for a few days. But when I finally did start it, I couldn’t put it down. The Alex Crow is more intricate, more intriguing, and written with more depth and complexity than Walk on Earth a Stranger. These two books have different audiences and will each appeal to teens in a different way. While it’s not really fair to compare these two books (again, like comparing tacos to gingko trees), The Alex Crow is the clear winner for its unique format, clever storyline, and interesting characters. I can’t adequately sell it to you. Just read it.
WINNER: THE ALEX CROW BY ANDREW SMITH
Reviewed by Gail Guzman, Librarian at Thornton Fractional South High School