Title // Under A Painted Sky
Author // Stacey Lee
Publisher // G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date // March 17, 2015
Synopsis // Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.
This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
I usually don’t read historical fiction, but when I read the premise for this book, two outcast girls on the Oregon Trail headed out to California I don’t know why but I just had to read it immediately! And although it was far from amazing, I really enjoyed it for sure! (also just saying the cover is gorgeous that is a fact).
This book launches right into the action with Sam and Andy heading west within the first few chapters, and from there the action and stakes continued throughout the whole book! I thought the pacing was really good, and with daunting wilderness and funny character interactions, I never felt bored and flew through this book in one sitting in just a few hours! From catching and eating snakes, to stampeding animals, to thunderstorms out in the open, I really felt immersed in the setting and was transported to the Oregon Trail!
This book features one of my favorite tropes: found families! Sam has to flee home, and immediately meets up and goes with Andy, and there they run into three cowboys. At first they stick together because of wagers and food, just temporarily, but I loved seeing them care for each other over time, looking out for each other, respect each other, and just try to keep each other alive because the old west was rough.
I loved all the individual character interactions within their group too! I loved seeing Sam and Andy look out for each other, two marginalized girls dressed as boys against the world! I also loved Cay and his incessant pursuing girls getting them into all sorts of trouble haha. I loved seeing West open up from being more quiet and closed off to sharing more with Sam. And I love the way the two cousins West and Cay looked out for each other and stick together, head to California together, no matter what.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the romance in this book. I really liked the connection Sam and West had as friends, but I didn’t really feel any chemistry or spark beyond that. Also it was kind of weird because I’m pretty sure he thinks she’s a boy but also likes her but is also straight? I have no idea I want to stan a bi king but nothing was really addressed so it was just… strange.
I loved the diversity in this book! Sam is Chinese, and I liked hearing about her Chinese influences and heritage, such as how she’s super into the Chinese zodiac (also she’s a snake like me!) and it was interesting to see her describe everyone in terms of their zodiac animal. Sam’s friend Andy is black, a runaway slave, and it was heartbreaking, but also good in this book, to hear about her past, and I was just happy for her to be with this new found family. One of the cowboys, Peety, is Mexican, and it was fun seeing him throw Spanish into conversations. There was also a good conversation about interracial dating, and how it was just expected that Sam would marry another Chinese person, which was what happened at the historical time, but I loved seeing the characters question that ❤
Sam is a musician, and I loved hearing her talk about her music that she loves so much. She wants to open a music school, and I loved experiencing her passion and dream in this book! It was so clear how much she loved music and I love how that was portrayed.
My biggest problem with this book was that I didn’t really like the ending. It was the only part of the book that felt rather rushed to me, and there were some things that happened so quickly and one thing that felt a bit like a cop out, and also one thing that felt unfinished that the whole book was leading up to… and then just ignored?
Overall though, besides the ending and the romance, I really enjoyed this book! It was super fun to read about this western adventure on the Oregon Trail and follow this group of people I love so much, and I really recommend!
Are you interested in reading this book, or did you like it if you’ve read it? Do you like historical fiction, especially western books? I’d love to chat in the comments below ❤