I know, it’s almost June, and here I am still working on my Top 10 2015 Releases I Didn’t Get To. Once again, though, this cross-dressing adventure was worth the wait.
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.
Samantha is the only Chinese girl in a tiny frontier supply town in 1849 Missouri. She teaches music lessons with her violin, the Lady Tin-Yin, and dreams of performing in New York City someday. Things go very suddenly south when her father and their store all go up in flames and the landlord attempts to rape Samantha in preparation to adding her to his roster of “working girls”. She’s rescued by Annamae, a slave just about Samantha’s age who’s looking for her lost older brother.
The two girls dress as boys for safety, changing their names to Sammy and Andy, heading west to find Annamae’s brother and the friend Samantha and her father were meant to join the next day. They join up with a trio of cowboys heading west, including cousins West and Cay as well as their Mexican friend Peedy. All sorts of hijinks ensue, both adventurous and romantic. There’s still time for us to get to know all of the characters well, and explore the past trauma that each of them has. I think that cheerful, observant Peedy might have been my favorite character besides the girls. I especially enjoyed the mix of Chinese and Christian philosophies – Samantha having logically been raised with both, while Annamae was raised strictly Christian and is horrified at the importance Samantha places on horoscopes and birth years.
I liked all of it except for one character’s death that I felt was unnecessary. Also, if you are the kind of reader who does not enjoy watching teens pine after each other while not actually explaining their feelings for most of the book, you will be frustrated by just that sort of thing going on here. (But really – the girls are in disguise! The boys are mostly – well, clueless.) Still, this is a fine, fast-moving adventure story that pays attention to the traditions of the Western while including people often left out of the narrative. It’s perfect especially for teens who might be assigned to read historical fiction and be wary of slow-moving stories.