Review: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Publication date: Mar. 17, 2015
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Category: Young Adult - Historical Fiction
Source: Received copy from publisher (Thanks!)
Summary: 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 good
Under a Painted Sky totally brought me back to my grammar school days when the highlight of my week was playing Oregon Trail in computer class. Although, it should go without saying that this was a far more moving and more wonderful version of said game. It’s 1849 and we first meet the two heroines of this story in Missouri. Samantha is an extremely talented musician who wants to return to New York  with her father. Tragedy strikes though and the only person who will help Samantha is a runaway slave named Annamae. Together, they disguise themselves as boys — Sam and Andy — and head for the California gold rush in the hopes of starting over.

The heart of the book is undoubtedly Samantha and Annamae and the powerful friendship they form. In a split second, they decide to have each other’s backs and together they take on the Oregon trail, which is where their newfound bond is truly tested. The law is after them, both are looking for people from their pasts and Samantha definitely isn’t used to the open road. But somehow they survive and take care of each other. Along the way, they also meet a group of kind cowboys who invite the girls to travel along with them. Except, they don’t know they’re girls of course. They’re supposed to just be a couple of boys too. Which provided some unexpected funny moments. Then amidst the adventure, drama and romance (oh yes, there’s a bit of that too!), the author tackles difficult but important topics. Like race during that time (Samantha is Chinese and Annamae is African-American) and to a certain extent, even feminism since traveling alone on the road as themselves (aka females) would’ve proven even more dangerous. As engrossed as I was in the actual story and the characters, I also felt like a learned a lot about that period in history.

(No) Reservations
None! Very impressive debut novel.

Do I recommend?
I do! The book paints (pun not intended) a vivid picture of life on the trail - the setting, the means for survival and what people were going through back then and I am so glad I took the time to read this story.


  1. I loved Under a Painted Sky! I thought it was a fantastic debut, very unique, and I fell head over heels in love with Samantha and Annamae as characters. So glad that you loved it too!

  2. I loved this book, and it totally reminded me of playing Oregon Trail, too! I felt like I learned a lot about that time period, and I absolutely loved the book's diversity. I can't wait for Lee's next book now :)

  3. Great review! I have been unsure about reading this one (I enjoyed the last western I read but it wasn't fantastic per se) BUT I do love a solid historical so now I feel like I should give this a try.


with love,