cover image Under a Painted Sky

Under a Painted Sky

Stacey Lee. Putnam, $16.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-399-16803-1

Lee debuts with a vivid, nontraditional Western, set in 1849 on the Oregon Trail during the heart of the California Gold Rush. Filled with the expected difficulties and dangers of traveling the rugged, often hostile terrain, the novel features an unlikely protagonist—15-year-old Chinese-American Samantha, a passionate violinist—who offers a fresh perspective on the era and setting. Trapped in Missouri when her father dies in a fire, the orphaned Samantha accidentally commits a fatal crime and, accompanied by a teenage slave girl named Annamae, flees for California. Disguising themselves as boys looking to make their fortune, the fugitives soon team up with a trio of young cowboys; adventures ensue, with plenty of twists, as the girls struggle to keep their secrets from their new friends and the strangers they encounter. Growing romantic undertones with hints of uncertain sexuality add bonus interest to a story that distinguishes itself by integrating strands of Chinese lore and wisdom, Christianity, and music with themes of friendship, diversity, and survival. Ages 12–up. Agent: Kristin Nelson, Nelson Literary Agency. (Mar.)