Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Published: March 17th, 2015 by G. P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Genre: Historical YA
Page Count: 370 plus an acknowledgement
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound
Summary (from 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.
Review: Oh, man this was fun. Don't get me wrong - there are some very serious things that happen in the book, but if I was going to pick one word to describe it, it would be adventure. I don't read a whole lot of historical fiction, but I really enjoyed this. The voice is wonderful. Sammy's voice is immediately compelling, and the relationships between the characters only make it more so. I don't even know how to tell you guys how much I enjoyed this. It was just so, so good.
Plot Talk: The summary really... sums... it up. Sammy and Andy run away dressed up as boys and try to survive and meet some dudes who they join up with. Western stuff happens. I hate doing plot stuff. The plot speed and tension is great, it never gets boring, not repetitive, it's awesome. Let's move on.
Characters: Sammy is so sweet, and you feel so sympathetic for her after all these bad things happen, and you feel so glad when good things happen to her. As the blurb says, she's Chinese American and in 1849, that obviously isn't exactly easy, and the book is very, very honest about that. At the same time, though, her connection to her culture, things her father has taught her and memories of him and their time together, are so important to her. They're cherished, really, and it's seriously beautiful, and I can see people connecting to it so much. It's so honest and heartfelt.
Meanwhile the relationship between Andy and Sammy is probably my favourite thing ever. They're supportive and incredibly close, and frankly I misunderstood a little reading about the book when I was picking it out and thought it was going to take them a queer place? It didn't happen, and that's my misunderstanding not anything the book did (no queerbaiting or anything), but the relationship between them is so close and beautiful that it totally could have gone there. Their friendship is amazing, and I would read like eight books about them, no joke.
There's some romance, too, and it's very sweet, but the book is more about Andy and Sammy's relationship. It's nice, though, because you want them both to be happy after everything they go through, and their romantic relationships are obviously things they're happy to have.
I also thought the supporting and side characters were great, too. There are obviously bigoted and dangerous people, but I love that their friends are honestly good people, and never purposely put them in danger and, while sometimes clueless, are never malicious. And I think it's nice that despite the time period, there are people too who are genuinely good people. There's a lot of depth and complexity to the characters, and characters have multitudes. Very serious things happen in the book, and these things aren't taken lightly, but because of things like this, it never feels bogged down by the bad things, or like the characters are suffering gratuitous abuse for absolutely no reason.
Oh and I'm pretty sure the author included a queer character? Like it's subtle and the character is only there for a moment, but it's also 1849. And one of the characters close to Sammy basically tells her at one point, while thinking she's a gay dude, that it's totally okay with him, so. It's kind of a nice touch from the author.
PG-13 stuff: Trigger warnings for attempted rape, death, suicide mention, slavery, racism, violence including racism motivated violence. I don't think these things ever become too graphic, as I said above, and I'm just coming off a book I thought was overly graphic and spent too much time making its characters unnecessarily suffer, but it is authentic to the time period in this. I can see parts of the book being upsetting, as they're meant to be, but I wouldn't think the book is going to leave you with a hangover because everything was awful. Bad things happen, but so do good things, and characters are allowed to be happy.
Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: I don't really think I have anything. I seriously can't think of anything.
Cover comments: It's so beautiful, guys. I love that gradient from blue to purple to pink (which, yes, I know that from nail polish tutorials, what of it?) and the silhouettes are beautiful. I always like that art style of black silhouettes against sunsets. The kid I baby-sit actually likes making that kind of art, and it's always so striking. It stood out at the library when I was picking up my holds! And it depicts something important to the book. Great cover, seriously.
Conclusion: This is heartfelt, has funny moments but knows when to be serious, takes its subject matter to hard places without overwhelming the reader, and has a beautiful, amazing friendship between its two main characters. The ending made me happy cry a little, and I enjoyed it so much. Honestly this just worked so well for me. When a book can make you feel dusty and grimy because the descriptions are so vivid, something about that is just cool. Four and a half out of five roses.
- The book mentions periods. THE BOOK, STARRING TEENAGED GIRLS, MENTIONS PERIODS. It's amazing how rarely this happens.
- There's this little bookending thing the author does that I won't spoil but it's so sweet and it made me smile so much because it's just one of those adorable things. Very sweet.
I think that's it!
Peace and cookies,