Review #41 // Under a Painted Sky – Stacey Lee


After a man tries to rape her, Samantha is forced to run out into the Frontier in order to save herself. Along with her comes the slave of the man she killed, Annamae. Not wanting to attract attention, they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, and travel across the Oregon Trail with three men they met along the way.

Why this book?: The November book of the Keep It Diverse book club!


Heartwarming friendships

This is what the book seemed to mainly be about. Not the romance, not at first, but the friendships you forge with people during difficult times. Sammy and Andy’s friendship really hit it off with me, as they seemed to go so well with each other, despite differences that sometimes made the other second-guess their traveling partner.

When the boys came along, Cay, West, and Peety, I was dreading the eventual romance that would obviously spark, despite the fact that the girls were travelings incognito. Maybe it was because they were disguised, but the slow-burn romance that proceeded wasn’t as painful as I was expecting.

The diverse cast of characters was also one of my favorite details of this novel, because Lee really didn’t hold back. A Chinese girl, a black girl, a Mexican man, and two pathetic white dudes. This diversity also added an additional flare to everything, with Spanish words slipped in there, along with French and Chinese. The Chinese culture was referenced back to multiple times, which I also loved.

Simple but satisfying

The romance between West and Sammy was quite awkward, especially because it was mostly one-sided from the get-go. But by the end, I had grown fond of it. I also found the romance between Peety and Andy to be amazing, because it had more to do with the bond they shared rather than romantic or sexual appeal.

The writing was simple, but it explained things decently, and never went overboard. It was also obvious that Lee had done plenty of research/knew what she was writing about. I’ve been finding lots of books that take from cultures but don’t give them justice, yet this one seemed plentiful.

Of the research that was there, I only have one complaint, but not being Chinese myself, this can be disregarded if need be. I found the fact that Sammy constantly saying that “something” was lucky/rich/etc. because the Chinese word resembled that word (lucky/rich/etc.). I find it interesting, but when Sammy said it for probably the third or fourth time, I thought it might have been going overboard. I did enjoy the Chinese Zodiac and the part it played, though.

Final Rating: ★★★★☆


Under a Painted Sky was an enjoyable read, and I have few complaints about it. The focus on friendship rather than romance really endeared it to me. All of the characters were interesting and diverse, as well.

I’ve heard people say that this book was disappointing to them because they were expecting the California Gold Rush and all of that. While this book takes place during that time, it’s only used as a backdrop, and has no real importance, so don’t go into this book expecting it to be focused on that aspect.

Would I Recommend?

If you’re looking for a book focused on friendship that still has a diverse cast, than this one is for you. I didn’t have high hopes, mainly because I’m not the biggest fan of historical fantasy, but I ended up liking it a lot more than I was expecting.


Additional Information:

Published: March 17th, 2015

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Page Count: 384

Genre: Historical Fiction/YA/Western

Synopsis: via Goodreads

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.

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