Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review - Under a Painted Sky

Under a Painted Sky
by Stacey Lee
Date: 2015
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 384
Format: e-book
Source: library

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.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've had my eye on this book for a while.  At first, I was drawn in by the beautiful cover.  And then I was intrigued by the synopsis.  I usually end up liking historical fiction.  This book was no exception... though I did have a few issues with it.

Please, dear author, I want some more...

I really liked the inclusion of diversity in this story.  Sammy is Chinese and Andy is black, so there's already more diversity there than I've ever seen in a book about the United States in the mid-1800s.  The girls' three companions -- Cay, West, and Peety -- are quintessential cowboys, but Peety adds a little bit of Mexican flavour to the mix.  Sammy's cultural heritage and upbringing comes into play quite a bit throughout the story.  Despite being born and raised in New York City, her father taught her about her heritage, so she brings some unique elements to the plot.  She often talks about the Chinese zodiac and the character traits that go along with each type of animal.  She's also pretty smart, being able to speak a number of languages, and is a talented musician as well.

On the whole, the characters are quite well done.  With the exception of a couple of villains who appear to be a rip-off of the Stabbington Brothers from Tangled, the rest of the characters -- including the five main ones -- are a joy to read about.  They all have such distinct personalities.  Sammy struggles with her guilt and her ideas of being a good daughter.  Andy is almost motherly, with her wise, no-nonsense style.  Cay is a bit of a womanizer, though so sweet and charming that you can't really hold it against him.  West is brooding and secretive (but with good reason), but kind as well.  And Peety is protective and funny, with some of the best lines in the book.  I got quite attached to all of them throughout the course of the story.  There is some romance (this is a young adult title, after all), but I think the stronger relationship is actually the friendship between Sammy and Andy; it takes precedence over all the other relationships (in other words, they don't let boys come between them).

This is basically an Old West road-trip story.  The setting is almost another character itself.  Everything is described quite well, and it made me wonder what that area was like back then, when wild horses and bison still roamed around, and you could travel for days without seeing another person.  I loved reading about it.

It's all a matter of taste...

While I did like the inclusion of racial diversity in this story, it was also one of its downfalls.  Sometimes, the attitudes seemed a little too modern.  Yes, there were examples of racism throughout the book but, at other times, it didn't quite seem like there was enough.  The direction the story ultimately took, while pleasing and satisfying to the modern reader, just didn't ring true to me.  I would've liked to see a few more obstacles in the way of the race issue's resolution; as it was, it just seemed too easy.

Let's get technical...

This book's main weaknesses, though, were the technical issues.  There were a lot of historical inaccuracies, anachronisms, and some overly modern speech.  Cay's age wasn't consistent throughout the book: at first, Sammy says he's 17... then he tells her he was born in January 1830, so he's obviously 19... but then Sammy refers to him as 18.  Some characters' speech patterns (particularly those of Andy and Peety) weren't all that consistent.  There seemed to be a lot of comma splicing, and there were so many wrongly used words.  (Seriously, if I read one more book that has archers "notching" their arrows, I think I'm going to scream.)  There were also a number of typos, though I don't know how many of those were just a byproduct of the conversion to EPUB format.

The verdict...

On the whole, despite a few technical issues, I did really enjoy this book.  I think it would also translate really well onto the screen; hopefully, someone'll decide to make it into a movie one day!

Quotable moment:

We gaze at the horizon, a sweeping canvas of color and texture. The sun drops like a magic ball into a hat, leaving behind a trail of glitter in the blushing sky. It takes my breath away.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 4/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 2/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5 ladybugs


  1. I totally want to try this!! I grew up on historical fiction but I kind of never read it anymore, which is baaaad. I LOVE IT. (Not my favourite genre all up, but I still love it.) The characters sound AMAZING, particularly with the diversity. But ergh, I hate it when language and quips don't fit in with the era. I just finished and epic fantasy that did just that. -_- Drove me nuts. And sad it misuses words and is inconsistent. But if the characters are epic, I'M AN EAGER BEAVER.

    1. The characters were pretty good, especially compared to some of the other books I've read lately, where the characters were so generic and boring that they were barely characters at all (they were just names with a few physical traits attached).

      My rating probably doesn't reflect how much I did enjoy this book, because I had to take off a few points for the writing and some other problems. But the story and characters were strong, so I would definitely recommend this one, especially if you like historical fiction!