Taken 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.
The fact that I have not stumbled across YA westerns before now is shocking to me. This book was fantastic! It’s rough, it’s bloody, and it has everything I could have ever wanted in female character (besides being bisexual, but I’m counting my blessings). This book deals with a lot of tough subjects, something that I’m really glad to see in YA. There’s death and suicide mentions and attempts, which I think is something very important to portray. There is actually a lot of death in this book, so beware.
The story follows two well-developed minority girls through the American west, where they encounter a trio of cowboys and join forces to reach California. Stacy Lee has a very immersive style of writing that pull you along with her characters. Her description is impeccable, with phrases such as “A red moon has appeared, a bullet wound in the dark skin of the night.” (Pg. 61) Samantha (Sammy) and Annamae (Andy), the two protagonists, are also easy to follow and fall in love with. They are a refreshing pair in the world of white YA females, and their characterization is unique and original. Despite my own religious beliefs I enjoyed the incorporation of Annamae’s faith in God and the way that shapes her character and the way she interacts with the others in her party. She and Sammy have different ways of thinking. Sammy, being Chinese, draws a lot from the Chinese zodiac and Eastern philosophy. These beliefs were introduced seamlessly through the story, adding a unique dynamic to the story line.
The male characters, Cay, West, and Peety (who’s Hispanic) are great additions to the story rather than hindrances. They provide good compliments to their female counterparts and are dynamic as well, which is refreshing when one considers how many boring male characters there are in the world.
I didn’t have a lot of issues with this book. There is use of strong language including different racial slurs throughout it, and there was a moment when Annamae was described as having “skin the shade of pecans” though. Food descriptors for skin are usually good to avoid. Overall though Under a Painted Sky was a thrilling and wonderful read. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes strong female leads, minority characters, and wild west stories that leave you hanging on the edge of your seat.