Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: 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.
Westerns really don’t get the love they probably should. In Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky we meet Samantha and Annamae, two young woman, who share one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. These two tough girls embody what it means to have perseverance, and to fight for yourself.
The writing in this book is absolutely stunning, and you really do feel like you’re transported into the old west. The images that Lee paints are wonderfully descriptive and have their own personality, which I quite enjoyed. There’s something about travelling a tough and lonesome road, and yet Samantha and Annamae make you feel so welcome despite the problems they are essentially escaping from.
If there is anything I could highly praise about this book, it’s the friendship between the girls. You get this strong sense of companionship and trust between the two girls — that they would do anything for each other, that they genuinely care what the other thinks. You don’t see a lot of friendships like this in YA, and in a lot of cases, the friendships in YA do tend to feel tacked on or very superficial. That truly isn’t the care here because Lee gives you damn good reasons to love these girls and enjoy their adventure.
The romance was the only thing that I liked, but didn’t love. West and Sam were cute, but he was a bit too hokey for me. That being said, I thought Lee did a good job here as well, because it wasn’t an instant connection, the two actually had some chemistry, which I appreciate so much.
This is a western, and it’s an unloved genre that needs a resurgence. This book reminded me how much I love the genre and how much I appreciate diverse women being friends with each other. We need more of that in YA, and we need it to be as genuine as it is portrayed here.