Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
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, 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