Under a Painted Sky

384p. ebook available. Putnam. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399168031. LC 2014015976.
Gr 7 Up—Although Samantha and her father have a successful dry goods store in Saint Joseph, Missouri, they long to escape: Samantha yearns to return to New York in hopes of a music career, while her father dreams of moving west to California. After her father dies in a fire, the teen is left grief-stricken and vulnerable. Their landlord, Ty Yorkshire, offers her accommodation at the town hotel, where she befriends Annamae, a slave housekeeper. After Samantha kills Ty during a rape attempt, she and Annamae create disguises and join a caravan traveling to California in search of gold. While Annamae's dialogue is written in a colloquial dialect, it doesn't distract from the story. Samantha's voice will sound contemporary to modern ears, yet not inaccurate to the mid-19th-century time period. The ever-present fear of being caught, whether by police or fellow travelers becoming wise to their disguises, is effectively created, as is the primitive life on the trail. As the girls learn cowboy techniques such as using dried buffalo scat to make a campfire and roping horses, readers are introduced to authentic cowboy life. Complications arise for Samantha when she develops a crush on a fellow cowboy; while Annamae falls for a vaquero (Mexican cowboy). This offers a much needed multicultural look at the Oregon Trail, with resourceful, smart, and brave Chinese American and African American girls as main characters. High drama, tension, romantic longings, and touches of humor will entice historical fiction fans, and will be a perfect tie-in to social studies curriculum.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA
After fatally wounding her would-be rapist, fifteen-year-old Chinese American Sammy escapes with runaway slave Annamae. Disguised as boys heading for the California Gold Rush, the girls befriend three cowboys with whom they travel the gorgeous but rough Oregon Trail in 1849. While there's a lot to keep track of, this well-executed novel deftly integrates details about Chinese American culture, slavery, and pioneer life.

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