A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
A welcome look at life on the Oregon Trail that does not center on shoot-outs and Indians attacking wagon trains. Lots of everyday information about what settlers ate, what they carried in their wagons, and how many of them were immigrants looking for a new life in America. Readers will learn that slavery was not confined to the South but existed in states such as Missouri and bounty hunters could pursue runaway slaves such as Andy even after they fled West toward California. Readers also will learn a bit about Chinese philosophy and how the animal signs of the Chinese zodiac are believed to influence your personality and destiny. Kids interested in geography will be able to find many of the places mentioned in the book on contemporary maps.
Judge people by what lies beneath, not by skin color, ethnicity, or society's standards.
Positive Role Models
In 1849, Sammy (Chinese-American), Andy (African-American), West and Cay (white brothers), and Peety (Mexican-American) make an unlikely alliance on the trip West because they don't judge one another by how society says people should see and relate to one another. As Samatha and Annamae as well as Sammy and Andy, the girls are resourceful, courageous, and unfailingly loyal. In their new identities as teen boys, they tackle the "cowboy training" required by West, Peety, and Cay with spirit and good humor and learn to ride, rope, and shoot.
Violence & Scariness
An attempted rapist is killed, a man dying of cholera is shot to end his pain, several people are wounded by gunshots, and two bounty hunters meet violent ends by drowning and hanging.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
As the story unfolds, there is a subtle undercurrent of confused sexual attraction -- more poignant than provocative -- between West and Peety and the two girls they still believe are teenage boys. A few kisses after Sammy's real identify is revealed.
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The words "Chinkies" and "blackies" are used, and Sammy is called a "whore."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Sammy gets drunk on hard cider, and wine is served when they go to dinner with a French family traveling on the wagon train.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.