Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Summary: 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.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: The first book in a year of YA Westerns (2015) and the only one I hadn't reviewed yet. I really liked how Samantha/Sammy was formed as a character and her friendship/sisterly relationship with Annamae/Andy grew. I struggled to picture the guys - West, Petey, and Cay - as the ages they were stated as, but they were fairly good characters.
I appreciated how many obstacles the group encountered. It wasn't an easy ride for them, which made the ending all the sweeter. However, the ending lost some of its oomph because Samantha's goal of finding Mr. Trask is never realized. Like, she realizes why her father wanted them to go to California, but she never reunites with Mr. Trask or gets her mother's bracelet back.
I am really happy for Annamae/Andy's ending, though. Despite all the loss she suffers, she ends in a good place and gets a new family in the process. There's one s-word and a smattering of other lesser foul language. Some sexual innuendos and violence.
The Verdict: Strong for a debut novel.
Will I be adding this book to my library?: Already have.