3 Ups and 1 Down - Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

11:39 Cilla P 2 Comments

Title: Under a Painted Sky
Author: Stacey Lee
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Borrowed
Synopsis: 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.

add to goodreads


I was dying to read Under a Painted Sky ever since it came out. It never made it to the bookshops in my hometown (surprise, surprise), but I was shocked that I couldn't find it in Melbourne bookshops either! I was about to give up and order it online when I checked the library.

Lesson of the story: libraries are amazing.

Anyway, all that waiting and searching around was worth it! Here are some highlights of my reading experience:

“No one ever injured an eye by looking at the bright side.”


1. The landscape

I know nothing about the Oregon Trail, and my knowledge about American geography is honestly poor, but neither of this affected my enjoyment of the book. If anything perhaps my lack of knoweldge about this world and time period was one of the things that kept me fascinated. The settings were all vividly described - from the harshness of the trail to its beauty, and the atmosphere of that time period. I particularly love that Stacey Lee didn't gloss over the difficulties Sammy and Andy - as girls - had on the road with the necessities of life, such as peeing and having their periods.

2. The friendship

The strength of the book, for me, lies largely in the friendship between the two main ladies. Individually, Sammy and Andy are fantastic characters. Both are marginalised girls of coloured trying to break free, and while both have streaks of steel in them, they're also frightened and lost and doing the best they can - which makes them both relatable and real. Together, however, they're even better. I've been looking for a book that depicts strong female friendship, and Under a Painted Sky does it wonderfully.

There's also their friendship with the trio of cowboys, which makes me laugh on more than one occasions and deserves a mention on this list.

3. The journey

Secret identities, a stampede, running away from the law - these alone are fabulous ingredients for a great story, and there are plenty others that Stacey mixed deftly together. I was captivated the whole way through.


1. The main romance

I'm a big fan of longing and a love that feels impossible, and that part of Sammy's romance is written wonderfully. My heart hurt for her on more than one occasion. However, though it is not at all instalove, I didn't get it. I didn't see how and when it all started, and in general wasn't compelled to root for it as much as I could have.

My verdict

Under A Painted Sky has complex characters, fascinating settings, and wonderful friendships. Although I never quite bought the central romance, I was hooked on the story of Sammy's journey to find her family.

Reading this book contributes to the following challenges:

  • Goodreads Challenge
  • Around the World 2016
  • The Backlist Books Reading Challenge
  • #DiverseReads2016


  1. I'm glad you liked this one for the most part!! I love the landscape and Stacey's beautiful descriptions and poetic writing. I love the seamless addition of diversity and how it works so nicely with the story. Great review!!

    Rachel @ A Perfection Called Books

    1. Yess, I love that it's telling the stories of the POCs, and it's not just making the characters POC for the sake of diversity. Thank you, Rachel! <3


Thanks for reading! It makes my day to hear your thoughts and I will respond asap. :)