Or: A Why I Should Probably Read More Westerns and Play More Oregon Trail
Title: Under a Painted Sky
Author: Stacey Lee
Genre: Historical Fiction; Western
Page Count: 372
Buy: Redux Society
Rating: Four outta Five
Content Warnings: Death and violence, sexual assault, racism, sexism, homophobia, death of a family member, murder, grief, injury, near death, fire death, shame, and guilt.
*This is a spoiler-free review! Enjoy!*
“‘Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.’”
This one’s those American Life diaries books from the 1990s and early 2000s meets the Oregon Trail computer game; meets the American Girl Doll craze; meets crossdressing like you’re in a Shakespearean comedy; meets cowboys and a Mary Poppins-esk saddle bag; meets lots of mustaches; meets the stampede scene from The Lion King but not nearly so sad; meets vibes like the movie Holes; meets lessons in cowboy 101; meets a western battle of the bands; meets the evil twins from Tangled; meets a lesson in how music soothes the soul and brings people together no matter where they come from or what they’ve seen.
Oh and the tiniest bit of romance to sweeten things up.
Most kids born in the 90s probably spent a majority of their Oregon Trail unit in elementary school comfortably seated in front of a computer screen desperately trying to keep their digital characters from dying of dysentery or encouraging them to successfully fjord the river. This book is one hundred percent for those kids - now grown up - who spent an inordinate amount of time invested in their westward-traveling fictional families. .
“Maybe what matters is not so much the path as who walks beside you.”
Most people I know only read fiction and fantasy - which is great! This book, though, gives you the perfect excuse to take a break and dip your toes into the historical fiction genre. It’s obvious that Lee did her research when writing this book - the presentation of life in the west during the 1840s is vivid without sacrificing fun and without being too generic or stereotypical. You’ll read about the real struggles of living day to day traveling west, but you’ll also experience danger, romance, and the complications and consequences that come from running from the law.
Similarly, the author presents the hardships and lives of individuals from disenfranchised groups of people, not shying away from the violence and discrimination they often faced during the book’s time period. The book’s narrative, told from the perspective of a young Asian-American woman, provides a specific and complex view of the United States during the mid-1800s. This protagonist’s perspective also leads the reader to examine race and sexism in the United States during this time, and how not all disenfranchised groups experienced the same types or severity of discrimination and what that ultimately means for their identities and ways of living.
“‘Your head’s like a room and when you’s forced to stay in it, you gotta deal with all the trash that’s left in there.’”
While officially categorized as a Young Adult novel, Lee’s story has some brutal moments and discusses very adult topics including sexual slavery, slavery, homophobia, and hate crimes. But the book also balances this out with fun and wholesome characters and moments that you can’t help but smile at. Come to this book for the new narrative perspective and stay for the adventure!
I give this book four out of five campfires.
Have you read something today? You should.
Until our next story,