Under a Painted Sky

Under a Painted Sky

Under a Painted Sky

by Stacey Lee

Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Published: March 17th 2015
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux




Missouri, 1849
Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musicianβ€”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, struggling 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.


It’s truly impressive how many thought-provoking topics Stacey Lee is able to cover in a mere 384 pages. Everything from racial prejudices to gender stereotypes to class differences is discussed here, and in a way and level that I haven’t ever seen before in young adult literature. It’s an eye-opening and unique story, and while I wasn’t as emotionally connected to it as I wish I could have been, I did enjoy Samantha and Annamae’s story.

After her father dies in a fire, aspiring Chinese-American musician Samantha decides to travel the Oregon Trail and start a new life for herself by mining for gold in the California gold rush. On the way, she meets a runaway slave named Annamae, and the two immediately form a bond.

Maybe what matters is not so much the path as who walks beside you.

There aren’t truly many young adult books that feature strong female friendships, and it’s one of the topics I believe could deal with a lot more focus. I suppose that’s why Under a Painted Sky is such a strong novel: it’s a story about friendship above anything else.


Annamae and Samantha may not appear to have anything in common, but they become friends nonetheless. Their friendships is written in a way that is both heart-warming and extremely realistic, and I couldn’t help but root for it.

Father always said, “If you cannot be brave, then imagine you are someone else who who is.” So I imagine myself as him, my optimistic father, whose steps never wavered, whose face never hid in shadows. Lifting my chin, I march after Annamae as if my cares were few and my outlook, golden.

Samantha is a protagonist that I really liked. She is such a strong and determined person, and you can really sympathize for how she always feels alone as one of the only Chinese immigrant families in her hometown. Her passion for music is reflected clear as day off the pages, and it almost at times feels contagious.

The story has a rich historical setting, and it’s clear the amount of research that went into it. Annamae and Samantha travel along the Oregon Trail, and their journey is well-documented and extremely realistic. The challenges they face – the bandits, chorea, etc – are all written in a way that makes you feel you’re traveling the difficult 2,000+ miles alongside them.

A compelling tale of friendship in the midst of the hardships of the Oregon Trail, Under a Painted Sky is a unique and fresh addition to the young adult genre. While I wish it impacted me a little more emotionally than it did, I still enjoyed joining Annamae and Samantha as they traveled the rough and tumble roads of one of America’s most famous and deadly trails.

We carry around the light of our loved ones who have passed. It is they who light the path for us


51 thoughts on “Under a Painted Sky

  1. i’ve seen this book around for a while, and it looks so interesting! I love that it has a historical fiction component, which is a great genre.

  2. Books about friendship are so fun for me. The whole topic is often shadowed by cheesy romance and I’m glad this book is different! I haven’t had the chance to read it, but Stacey is such a sweetheart so i must get on it!

  3. WOW I love your review as always Zoe! πŸ™‚ This is a very convincing one! I love how it’s put in a historical setting, and also, I’m a huge sucker for books about friendship! I just love reading about two characters who are great friends. <3 Oh and Annamae is an interesting name, haha.

    Thanks for the review! I'm definitely going to read this if I see it in the store πŸ˜€

    1. Thank you Jillian! :heart: If you’re into friendship and historical fiction, this is definitely something you should check out.

  4. This sounds like quite an incredible novel, and I wholeheartedly agree that books about strong friendships in YA are severely lacking.

    It’s sad that you couldn’t connect on that deep emotional level, especially since it sounds like it was such an impactful story πŸ™

    I really like the quotes you included, and I’m glad you reviewed this because I actually hadn’t heard of it before! <3

    1. It is a shame that my emotional connection was a bit lacking, but the awesome friendship totally made up for it. πŸ˜‰ Thank you!

  5. Lovely review! Honestly, I’ve never ben a fan of historical novels — with a couple of exceptions here and there — but you’ve convinced me. I think I will definitely have to give this one a chance, especially the friendship sides of things.

  6. From the synopsis I would NEVER pick this up (cowboy stories just aren’t for me!), but it actually sounds really interesting- thank you for sharing!
    Beth x

  7. I WANT TO READ THIS SO SO BAD. Mostly because it sounds kind of diverse. I’ve read a million Oregon Trail books (okay, maybe, like 10? hhaha) back when I was doing school, but they were all published at least 30 years ago. I’d like to read something new and fresh. πŸ˜‰ ALSO MUSICIANS. YAY!

  8. This does sound like a fascinating read, the cover is pretty catchy as well<3 Thank you for the amazing review, you're like the 3rd positive review I've seen so far!

    1. If you’re into books about the Oregon Trail and friendship, this book will be right up your alley Shannon. πŸ˜‰ Thank you!

  9. YAY!! I’m so glad you liked this one too. The writing was gorgeous and the storyline was so unique. I’ve never read a YA novel about The Oregon Trail. I loved the diversity of the characters and the vividly described setting. My favorite part is definitely the friendship between Annamae and Sammy. πŸ™‚ Lovely review!

    1. I agree with everything you’ve said Rachel. There aren’t really many books about the Oregon Trail, which made this one so unique. And combine it with the awesome diversity and friendship it had, and it’s definitely a jackpot read. Thank you!

  10. I must read Under a Painted Sky. As you probably know, I love historical fiction, but I don’t think I’ve ever read about a Chinese girl on the Oregon Trail, and I’m always on the lookout for unique books. Also, this book is about friendship and YA needs more of that. I’m not a huge fan of romance in books, but I am a huge fan of friendship. I can’t wait to read this one!

    1. Historical fiction is my jam too Ana, but it’s so hard to find YA historicals that aren’t either set during WWII or the women’s suffrage movement. I hope if you end up reading this one that you end up enjoying it as much as I did!

  11. I’ve been hearing great thing about Under A Painted Sky! The premise sounds really cool and I love historical fiction. Plus, I am always looking for good YA books centering around friendship! I’ll have to pick this one up!

  12. I’ve seen SO MUCH love for this book over the past couple of weeks. Stacey sounds like a beautifully talented author, being able to touch on so many important topics. Shame you didn’t connect as much with the story but I totally get it! That happens to me all the time. Beautiful review, Zoe! <33

  13. First review I’ve seen of this one. I’m glad you enjoyed this book – I need to read more historical fiction with settings other than WWII. haha Sounds like a good book, and I really like that it focuses so much on friendship.

  14. Yay <33 Glad despite not being totally able to connect to this one you still enjoyed it overall. You know me- I totally adored Under a Painted Sky.

    YES. The diversity and issues of inequality in this one had me cheering. I mean obviously not because they existed, but because they were actually highlighted and from the POV of a Chinese character. It's truly a rare thing. And female friendships!! This one checked off so many good boxes for me.

    I really think the uniqueness of this one (hello, Oregon trail!) coupled with the history and lovely fleshed out characters made this one a winner for me c:

    1. You were the one who convinced me to read this wonderful book – so thank you Larissa! :heart: The friendships, setting and diversity were all amazing, weren’t they?

  15. This is one of those books that I am so looking forward to reading. I mean, it’s set in an era that isn’t tackled upon much in YA literature, an era that had its own prejudices and issues and problems that would be interesting to explore in the perspective of a teenager – and a Chinese teenager at that! My hands are twitching in ache for this book already!

    1. I completely agree Faye. It’s wonderful that this one had such incredible diversity. πŸ™‚ I hope once you end up getting a copy that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  16. Everyone seems to love this book and while historical fiction YA books aren’t my strong suit I’m tempted to start this one! Lovely review πŸ™‚

  17. Glad it covers a lot of things, but shame you weren’t emotionally invested with the story, and I do love stories that mainly focus on friendships, always the fun ones, especially when they are total opposites. And glad that it feels well researched and realistic with it. πŸ™‚

  18. YAYYY A review Zoe! Yippee! I absolutely love books that focus on friendship first and foremost, instead of the romance. Those quotes you picked out are absolutely beautiful as well. It definitely sounds like a very deep thoughtful read! Lovely review!

  19. I’m not a big fan of historical romance, but this book sounds so amazing and inspirational. I think that its important to have more books like this to be able to inspire or touch other people’s life. This book does sound heartfelt and true. πŸ˜€

    1. Thank you Frannie. ♥
      So excited to see what you think of this one – especially if you’re into historical fiction & friendship stories. πŸ™‚

  20. This sounds so incredibly beautiful Zoe, and although I’m not the biggest fan of historicals, I love a storyline that heavily features friendship, rather than the horrid romances that YA tends to throw at us. I love books that ultimately celebrate our differences and this sounds like it rises above. Brilliant review Zoe, really excited to grab a copy <3

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