29 March 2015

Review #174: Under a Painted Sky by Stacy Lee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

----C.S. Lewis

Stacey Lee, a Chinese-American author, has woven a heart-touching and thoroughly engrossing tale of friendship and shifting backdrop through the infamous Oregon Trail, in her debut book, Under a Painted Sky .


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. 

Oregon Trail

Lee's debut historical fiction simply made me fall for the history of America, cowboys, the Oregon Trail, unbreakable friendships, first loves, means to survival, racial in-differences and the wild, wild west.

Just like every other 15-year old teenage girl, Samantha, a Chinese-American girl too has dreams of her own to achieve. She wants to be a professional
violinist and wants to open a music conservatory with her father. But an unfortunate tragedy leaves her penniless, orphaned and an unlucky murderer. To save herself from the prosecution and the consequences of that tragedy, she embarks upon a journey to reach New York with the African-American slave girl, Annamae, by cross-dressing and disguising themselves as boys. And on their expedition to the wild, wild west, they join forces with a group of three cowboys and together they faces issues like race, sexuality, trust and unity.

The strongest aspects in this book are female friendships and the Oregon Trail. The friendship, between Samantha and Annamae is depicted like something which blossoms and nurtures into a more mature and supportive relationship, despite their racial, culture and background differences, with their each leg of expedition ultimately turning into something indestructible like family. Moreover, their demeanor is a stark contrast with one another- one is highly cultured whereas the other one is sensible, which is what ultimately completes each other, and together they beat all the challenges in their path. Yes, there was some romance between Samantha and one of the cowboys on their journey, but the author never shifts her focus from Samantha and Annamae's friendship all throughout the tale.

Under the Painted Sky not only guides us in the back-breaking and unexplored journey of the first west-settlers through the Oregon Trail, but it also captures the Oregon Trail very lively. Yes, the author have done a great job in painting the unfathomed land of Oregon Trail from it's color and sharpness of the grass to the fear of criminal attack to falling sick with dysentery and cholera to the every hiss of the blowing wind to the call of the wild animals. And with her intricate detailing of every aspect in the Oregon Trail, we are easily transported to the place and time.

The writing is evocative, though the emotional depth felt bit hasty at times, and the essence of the wild west is so deep that we lose ourselves easily into the tale and never want to come out of it. The characters are strong and the author have marvelously disguised two girls into young lads not just by looks but also by their demeanor and have portrayed their difficulty on being boys strikingly. The prose is articulate thus giving a fast pace to this book. In one word, Lee has created a compelling and though-provoking tale that give us glimpse into the challenging era of the American history and how this land of opportunity is actually a country of various diverse immigrants from all over the world who traveled a long, difficult path to make their fortune as well as living.

Verdict: A very promising historical YA that will appeal not only to the historical fiction fans but also to the YA readers.

Courtesy: I received an ARC  from the author's publicist in return for an honest review. 

Author Info:

Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys. She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul. A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain. She plays classical piano, raises children, and writes YA fiction.
 Visit her here 

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  1. This book sounds like a good one and I already have it on my TBR ^^ I like the idea of a mixed character because I am someone who is very interested in culture. So interested that my favourite country is China and I went there myself!

  2. Thanks a lot Olivia for stopping by.


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