(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Life in 1849 St. Joseph, Missouri, is tolerable for Samantha Young and her father—even if both of them dream of being somewhere else. Samantha, a 15-year-old violinist, longs to return to New York City with its vibrant, sophisticated culture. Her father, a Chinese immigrant, wants to see the Pacific Ocean and make his fortune in California. When the family's dry goods store burns to the ground, killing Mr. Young, it becomes apparent that neither one of them will be getting what they desire.
Penniless, Samantha has little choice but to take their landlord up on his offer of lodging at a hotel he owns. When he makes it obvious just what he expects in return, she reacts in self-defense, killing the odious man. With the help of a slave housekeeper named Annamae, Samantha flees. Disguised as boys, the two girls join other travelers headed west on The Oregon Trail. Desperate to get as far away from St. Joe as possible, the pair brave danger of every kind as they become unwitting pioneers.
When "Sammy" and "Andy" meet up with a trio of young, would-be gold prospectors, they worry their precious secrets will be discovered. Will the boys find out their new companions are really girls in disguise? Can Samantha and Annamae keep their real identities under wraps until they reach safety in California? Does a safe place even exist for two fugitives on the run from some very powerful enemies?
While historical fiction for teens isn't hard to come by, YA westerns are practically unheard of. Maybe that's what makes Under a Painted Sky, a debut novel by Stacey Lee, stand out. Or, maybe it's because of the diverse characters she creates—not only are they sympathetic, but they're also complex and intriguing. Or, it could be Lee's vivid, engaging prose. Or the novel's perfect balance between adventure, suspense, romance, and humor. Or, the warmth the story exudes, despite its treatment of tough subjects. Take your pick. All of these elements come together in charming, compelling harmony in Under the Painted Sky. At its heart, it's a story about friendship, but it's also so very, very much more ... I loved it.
(Readalikes: Um, I can't think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language (no F-bombs), violence (including an attempted rape scene)/gore, and sexual innuendo
To the FTC, with love: I bought a copy of Under a Painted Sky from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.