Under a Painted Sky

First Lines: They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty Yorkshire thought it would strike with a scrubbing brush.

I put this book on my to-read list ages ago when I was looking for diverse books.  I think diverse books are amazing and there needs to be less of a stigma on them.  Anyway, I bought this book from Scholastic finally and, after ages on my shelf, finally pulled it out to read.

It’s 1849 and Samantha dreams of nothing more than returning to New York to be a professional musician.  Instead, she’s stuck in Missouri with her father, working in a dry goods store.  The fact that she’s a girl and Chinese makes life on the edge of the frontier that much harder.  After a tragic accident destroys her dreams of being famous, Sam fears for her life.  With the help of a runaway slave, Annamae, she flees on the Oregon Trail and they pose as boys–Andy and Sammy–headed to California for the gold rush.  In their travels, they begin to form a close bond of friendship and try to avoid any unwanted attention.  When they cross paths with a group of lighthearted cowboys, the girls find unexpected allies.  But as the law catches up with them, the girls soon see how hard it is to hide in the open.

In all, it’s pretty good. There are a few parts that are slow or simply just lack suspense. But there were other parts that were pretty entertaining.  (And in case you were wondering, there are parts that feel like it could have come straight out of that Oregon Trail game.  If you’re old enough to know what I’m talking about.)

The characters are, for the most part, pretty interesting. Sammy and Andy (our heroines) are both racial minorities in a time when that’s not a good thing. As Chinese and African respectively, these two have a lot of road blocks in their way to freedom–not to mention that they’re women on top of all of that. They have struggles that relate to their race and their cultures, but there are also struggles that they have that relate to growing up, fitting in, and keeping their identities secret. I rather enjoyed all of them.

And I thought the men Sammy and Andy joined up with were also great. They had their own personalities and differences. Sometimes they seemed a bit shallow, but mostly they were pretty well-written.  It’s been a few days since I finished this book, and I can tell you they still make me smile, thinking about their antics.

I thought it took the story a while to get rolling. I had a hard time getting into it initially because there was so much set-up before they actually got on the Oregon Trail. But once they got traveling, things pick up. It’s not always action-packed, but there are moments of suspense that make it worth the while.

One thing this book is pretty good at is creating themes that run through the entire book. There are lots of little things that keep coming back up and look more at the meaning of life or identity or whatever else. I liked that. It never felt like it got too preachy or philosophical. It just was what it was.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good book once the story got moving.


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