First of all, today is my bookstagram one-year anniversary! I can’t believe it’s been a year since I started that account. and almost a year since I started this blog. How time flies! Anyway, my pandas, I have my sixth #AsianLitBingo review, my pick for a religious Asian MC. Now, Samantha is not as religious as the other main character, Annamae, but she is still religious. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure about whether or not I would actually like Under a Painted Sky. On one hand, I’m not really a big fan of “Western” type novels nor of long journey type novels. On the other hand, I loved Stacey Lee’s other book, Outrun the Moon, with its gorgeous dialogue and beautifully crafted characters. The final outcome?
I gave Under a Painted Sky 8/10 stars.
That is probably the highest rating I’ll ever rate a Western journey type novel, so consider me extremely impressed with this book. Let’s see what made it so much better than your average Gold Rush journey!
Y’all, whoever came up with Goodreads was a genius. 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.
As I mentioned above, I normally do not enjoy Western novels at all for some reason. There’s just something about the Wild West that does not attract my interest. The same thing goes for books that are only about long journeys, especially those not taking place in cities. I tend to get bored a lot more easily, and they usually move much more slowly. Somehow though, Stacey Lee managed to combine these two elements and turn them into a book I enjoyed. By including diverse characters, strong friendships, lots of wit and heart, and beautiful writing, she won my heart over.
I’m going to get the few things I wish I could change out of the way. First of all, the pacing, especially in the middle of the book, was very slow. The main saving grace were the humor and touching moments. Sometimes, just when I was about to put this book down and take a break from it, I’d laugh out loud at a scene or awwww at a moment of friendship or romance. The only other thing I wish there was was a more concise plan of destination. By halfway through the book, I got really confused about where the characters actually wanted to go, and the constant changes in plan didn’t help.
Now, let’s move on to all the things I loved! First of all, it was really refreshing to see the narrative of a Chinese girl, a black girl, and a Mexican guy placed in the context of a Gold Rush journey story. These are the types of stories not normally told, so I loved seeing a fresh and diverse take on an exhaustively whitewashed genre. I especially enjoyed all the mentions of the Chinese zodiac and how it can predict one’s personality. Annamae, or Andy for most of the book, was a dragon sign like me, and it made me happy to someone with so many similar traits. She was extremely confident (much more than I am), very driven, and willing to take risks. She could also be really stubborn sometimes. 🙂 Samantha, or Sammy for most of the book, was a snake sign. This means that she was sophisticated, well-educated, and the one unlucky snake according to herself. I loved the friendship between the two so much. This is exactly the type of female friendship that I want to see more in YA novels. Beyond the friendship between the two girls, I also enjoyed the group dynamics between the five adventurers. The romance, although not the sole focus of the story, was still swoon-worthy with plenty of angst. All of these lovely features were made even by Stacey Lee’s beautiful writing!
All in all, I highly recommend this book to people who are a fan of Westerns and/or long journey novels, and even if you don’t normally read in these genres, I still think you should give a try! For all you know, this could be the exception to the rule!