I’m always on the lookout for a good story with characters we don’t read about everyday. In other words, I’m one of many who think we need more diversity in literature, especially the different genres of children’s literature.
So when my friend Jennifer mentioned Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky (Putnam, 2015), I quickly ordered it from my public library. And that’s the book I just finished this week.
Jennifer described it as a Thelma and Louise story set in the 1800s Wild West featuring a Chinese-American girl and a young slave. It certainly sounded thrilling and out of the ordinary.
And the book captured my attention right from the start until the very (teary) end. Samantha Young is a fifteen year old Chinese girl who lives in Missouri with her father, a dry goods store manager. They came from New York and are on their way to California.
But when Samantha learns her father perished in a fire at his store, she feels guilty for his death because she wasn’t there and because they had argued before she left home that day to teach violin.
Distraught, Samantha is taken to a hotel owned by the dry goods store landlord for safekeeping, but as it turns out he has other ideas for her. You can imagine what that would be out in 1840s Missouri.
In self-defense, Samantha kills her attacker. A Chinese girl would never win a case of self-defense back in 1840, so she had to get out of Missouri as soon as possible.
She befriends a slave who was the first to see her after the landlord died. Annamae leaves with Samantha and soon the two become Sam and Andy, thanks to the men’s clothing they wear and never let others see them without.
Out on the trail they meet a trio of cowboys who takes them under their wings all while the two girls continue to maintain their disguise. The girls must keep a low profile because Samantha is wanted for murder and mercenaries were everywhere out in the Wild West.
One of the cowboys, a strong silent type named West, is particularly protective of Sam and even goes out of his way to save her life a couple times. She repays the favor when he comes down with cholera, but still can’t show her real identity. Sam wonders if West is falling for her–as a boy–and fears he will become angry with her if he finds out the truth of her identity.
As the book nears the end, the story seems like it will never be resolved with any kind of closure. And that’s what makes it a thrilling, page-turning tale that will hold your attention until the very end.
This book is Stacey Lee’s first, but I certainly hope it’s not her last.