Review: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

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.

Title: Under a Painted Sky
Author: Stacey Lee
Publication date: March 17, 2015

Under a Painted Sky has one of the best covers of the year (and I love that it matches the title!) but I wasn’t sure if I would be interested in reading it. I’m not terribly interested in the time period or the Oregon Trail — although I do remember loving Amanda and Caroline, two of the Sunfire romances. Maybe I should give the time and setting another look, because I really enjoyed Under a Painted Sky as well.

After her father died and her home burned, circumstances led Samantha (Sammy) to flee St. Joseph, Missouri. As the town was the starting point for the Oregon Trail, it was only natural that she would head west. She was lucky that she met Annamae (Andy), because Andy had more practical experience at pure survival. I don’t know if Sammy would have made it without Andy, but I feel certain Andy would have been able to go on without Sammy. She was more streetsmart, I guess, even though that seems like the wrong word to use for 1849 frontier life. Sammy’s life hadn’t been easy, but she always had her father to rely on, while Andy was basically on her own for years. Each with a goal in mind and with something to run from, they were a good match and they quickly learned to work together and became friends.

I had already fallen for Sammy and Andy’s friendship by the time they met up with a group of cowboys, so I was a little disappointed when they all decided to travel together. I was ready for Sammy and Andy to move along, to leave the cowboys behind. But the cowboys were necessary. They had supplies. Sammy and Andy had no time to prepare at all for the journey and carried very little with them. In the end, the cowboys were all fun characters and I grew to enjoy the dynamics of the entire group. First up, Sammy and Andy had to figure out a way to conceal the fact that they’re girls from the cowboys. They were already dressing as men, but meeting and then parting from pioneer groups is very different from living and travelling with real men 24/7. The cowboys each had their own secrets and tragedies in their pasts as well, however the main focus was always on Sammy and Andy, which is where it should be. I didn’t need to know more than I did about the cowboys because they were only minor characters in Sammy’s and Andy’s story. Even Sammy’s feelings for and eventual romance with one of the cowboys never took precedence over the Sammy/Andy friendship. She would have give up on her goal for Andy, but I don’t know if she would have done it for her cowboy.

I’m so glad I gave Under a Painted Sky a chance. I loved the characters and the adventure and I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to follow Sammy and Andy every step of the way to their destination and read about every day of their lives once they got there.

five stars



  1. I love the cover and I’ve heard so many positive comments about this book! I’m a little hesitant to read it, though, because I haven’t been overwhelmingly impressed by other books that I’ve read which were set during this time period, similar to your initial reservations about the book. Despite this, you obviously really enjoyed it, so I might have to give it a try! Great review!
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