A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Under a Painted Sky is a racially diverse Western set along the Oregon Trail in 1849 that features strong nonsterotypical characters of Chinese, African, and Mexican descent. Two girls -- one accused of murder and the other a runaway slave -- disguise themselves as boys and join up with three young cowboys heading West to California. There's some violence, none of it gratuitous, and occasional racial slurs ("Chinkies" and "blackies"). As the friendship between the "boys" and two of the cowboys deepens, there's some deftly handled romantic tension. Serious lessons in the social history of the time are skillfully blended into a lively, suspenseful, and fast-moving story.
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What's the story?
Samantha and Annamae are girls on the run in UNDER A PAINTED SKY. Samantha has killed a man, and Annamae is willing to risk everything to escape life as a slave. Knowing they will be easily recognized -- Samantha is Chinese-American and Annamae African-American -- they decide to disguise themselves as teen boys named Sammy and Andy, flee Missouri, and travel West. Sammy hopes to catch up with a friend of her father who's already heading to California, and Andy is searching for her brother, who may belong to a notorious outlaw gang. A chance meeting with three young cowboys offers them both friendship and protection against the very real perils of the Oregon Trail. But both girls have a bounty on their heads and are in constant danger of their real identities being revealed.
Is it any good?
Beautifully written and immensely readable, Stacey Lee's first novel puts an unexpected and richly detailed spin on Western fiction standards -- horses, cowboys, wagon trains, pioneers, outlaws. It deftly blends them with serious social issues like slavery, discrimination, and gender bias. Sammy and Andy, who could easily have become characters out of a cliché "switched identities" movie, are instead fresh and believable as wannabe cowboys. Lee's multicultural cast of characters lends authenticity (so often lacking) to a story about settling the West.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about friendship among teens who come from different ethnic backgrounds. How easy -- or likely -- is it for kids in your school or neighborhood to have friends of a different ethnicity?
What's your favorite movie or TV show about the American West? Were you surprised there were no gunfights or wagon trains being attacked by Indians in Under a Painted Sky? Did the book give you a different perspective on what life was like along the Oregon Trail?
Do you agree with the author when she writes that "maybe what matters is not so much the path as who walks beside you"?
Themes & Topics
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