Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, March 2015
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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.
Under a Painted Sky is the tale of two girls, wronged and misjudged by society, hitting the open trail to leave their past behind. It’s a story full of friendship, brimming with buoyancy, and made of morals. I should have loved it.
Initially, I was hooked. The drama of the hard last words Samantha said to her father, the danger she suddenly finds herself in, and the unlikely ally in Annamae was exactly what I wanted to read. It was engaging, fascinating, and so chockful of potential that I settled in for the long haul.
And then, rather abruptly, the bottom fell out from the story.
All of that lovely potential disappeared. Samantha and Annamae, so ALIVE in the first pages of Under a Painted Sky deflated like someone let out their air. The narrative felt flat, rehearsed. I had the abject feeling of reading the dialogue instead of seeing the characters play out the scene in my mind.
Yet all this isn’t to say Under a Painted Sky is a bad book. It’s not. The descriptions of the Oregon Trail brought back memories of playing the game on bulky PCs in elementary school. The morals of the power of friendship, perseverance, and destiny are great, especially for the YA reader (this book’s target audience).
But after it failed to live up to the first few heart-pounding, emotionally wrenching pages, I was disappointed when it didn’t continue. I couldn’t get excited about the law, hot on Samantha and Annamae’s heels, or feel their concern when they worried their boyish disguises were slipping. I lost that connection with them and, without it, Under a Painted Sky couldn’t pull me back in.