Under A Painted Sky
by Stacey Lee
Read: March 17 - 19, 2015
Published: March 17, 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Penguin (THANK YOU!)
Category: Historical fiction, female friendship, Oregon Trail
Find: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Book Depository
A powerful story of friendship and sacrifice, for fans of Code Name Verity
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.
I didn't know what to expect when I started Under A Painted Sky, but I fell hard for this story.
Here's a five point list of things I loved:
1) I loved the historical, American West, Oregon Trail setting with wagon trains, immigrants and outlaws. I'm a big fan of Wild West stories, and I loved exploring this time and place with Sammy and the other characters. Under A Painted Sky also reminded me how much of the West was settled by immigrants from everywhere. This book goes back to when America really felt like a big melting pot.
2) I loved Samantha - turned Sammy - our Chinese narrator who blends her cultural traditions into the American setting. I really enjoyed experiencing life through Sammy's eyes, especially how she uses the Chinese zodiac to understand her world. Sammy was born in New York, raised by her father and is the most traditionally educated of her traveling companions. She's not physically strong and she admits herself that she's not the greatest at pretending to be a boy (I really liked this about her - I'd be bad at it too), but she is bright and resourceful, and is willing to do what she needs to survive. Sammy stole my heart.
3) I don't think Sammy would have gotten as far as she did the beginning if she hadn't befriended a slave girl named Annamae. After a majorly traumatic event, the two girls pretend to be boys and head West together. Andy has had a difficult life, but she inspired me with her optimism, drive and determination. She also knows a lot more about survival and she teaches Sammy what she knows. Andy sees the world very differently from Sammy's viewpoint, but these girls are able to find common ground and respect for each other. Sammy and Andy's strong friendship is at the core of this book, and one of my favorite elements.
4) Three young cowboys - Cay, West and Peety - become traveling companions of Sammy and Andy, and I loved the group of five they become. I wasn't sure how they'd work together at first, but I so enjoyed all of their interactions. The boys' camaraderie was infections. Each of these characters (3 real boys + 2 fake boys) has their own strengths to contribute on their journey, and it was fun watching them all to learn to rely on each other. I enjoyed seeing the mutual respect that blooms between them, and how they all looked out for each other. It was also amusing to guess whether these guys had figured out about Sammy and Andy's real (female) identities.
5) This book features a very slow burn romance. It is subtle and swoony and I loved watching it develop. Although, this book is low on angst, there is some drama that happens surrounding the romance, which is the one thing in this book that I didn't love at all. However, I really appreciated how the situation is handled and worked through with seriousness, and in the end I really fell hard for these two.
Wild horses, waterfalls, river crossings, stampedes, illnesses, injuries, fugitives and lawmen, don't miss Under A Painted Sky. Bonus, that cover is absolutely perfect for this story, and the images mean even more after I've read the book.
Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone (as far as I know)