Under A Painted Sky
YA historical fiction
"They say death aims only once and never misses, but I doubt Ty
Yorkshire thought it would strike with a scrubbing brush. Now his
face wears the mask of surprise that sometimes accompanies death: his
eyes bulge, carp-like, and his mouth curves around a profanity."
I can't imagine any reader worth her salt putting down Stacey
Lee's Under A Painted Sky after that introductory paragraph.
Samantha, Lee's narrator, possesses quite a unique and intriguing
voice. Inquiring minds would want to know exactly how this rather
mundane item could become a lethal weapon.
Samantha is in a world of trouble. Her beloved father, her only
living relative, has just perished in a fire. Mr. Yorkshire, the
building landlord, has pretended to want to help, planning to add her
to his stable of hookers.
"...The Lily of the East, we'd call you. Bet you'd fetch more than
the lot of them, maybe five dollars an evening..." When he tries to
rape her she fights back with the only weapon at hand. The year is
1849. Ty Yorkshire is Caucasian; Samantha is Chinese.
Samantha decides to flee (from Missouri) to California to meet
up with her Father's best friend, a mysterious Mr. Trask, whom she
will recognize by his red suspenders. Yorkshire's cleaning girl,
Annamae, decides to join her. Since people would soon be looking for
a murderer and an escaped slave, both girls, they disguise themselves
as Sammy and Andy, two young men who have caught the golf fever.
The cadance of Under A Painted Sky gives a reader the sense of
riding along with Sammy, Andy, and the unlikely companions they
acquire. The dangers they faced made my pulse race. It's the kind of
historical fiction that blends understanding of time and place
seamlessly with a gripping plot and characters you really come to care
My one caveat: this fine novel may be a bit too graphic for
more sensitive young readers. I was bothered by scenes where
hormonally driven stallions had to be put down and where a Cholera
stricken man the travellers encounter begs them to shoot him to end
On a personal note, one aspect of the book that I found fascinating
was how many aspects of healing that we routinely outsource to doctors
and hospitals were done by family and friends. People stitched up
wounds, set broken bones, and dug out bullets with, perhaps, whiskey
as anaesthetic. When I was about ten a family cat I really loved came
out on the wrong end of a fight. He had serious gashes and an ear
hanging by a flap of skin. My father refused to take him to the vet
so I took matters into my own hands using needle, thread, Crown Royal
from Dad's hidden stash, and a match. Amazingly that cat survived and
recovered despite having one ear that stood out at a really strange
A great big shout out goes to the first responders who we are
fortunate enough to be able to count on in emergencies.
Julia Emily Hathaway
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