Under a Painted Sky By Stacey Lee: a Book Review

“Leaves the reader feeling lost and confused.”

Under a Painted Sky By Stacey Lee: a Book Review

By: Carlin Lacques

If you’re interested in a book which attempts to teach middle school students about racism while being microaggressive itself, this book is for you.

“Under a Painted Sky,” By Stacey Lee is a story which aims to show dark, deeper themes and lessons, but instead ends up feeling forced. The story begins in a rushed fashion, with the main character, Samantha, (later referred to as Sammy) getting in a fight with her father. After coming home for the day from her job as a violin teacher, she discovers that her house and their dry goods shop has burnt to the ground. Her father had died.

This all happens within the span of only a few pages, and leaves the reader feeling lost and confused. 

How could Lee expect her reader to feel sympathy and remorse for Samantha’s father when we’ve seldom heard him speak? I feel if that plotpoint were to be developed at a slower rate it would’ve felt more important.

In terms of the aforementioned microaggressions, Lee portrays the only black girl in the story as highly masculine, in contrast to the main character Samantha. Black and South Asian women and girls are constantly subject to this kind of microaggression, and it’s disappointing to see in a book which is supposed to be a show of two girls trying to fend off such racist assaults. 

Besides such a lack of political correctness, overall the story feels empty. The premise is Samantha running away as a fugitive along with a runaway slave, Annamae (later referred to as Andy.) The two girls travel the Oregon trail together. The only real development seen is through the growth and blossoming of their friendship.

In terms of other relationships throughout the book, Samantha falls for a cowboy in their travels. The progression of her crush feels forced, and as if she only falls for him because he’s the first man she sees.

There’s nothing which shows that she cares for him because of his charming personality, sense of humor, nothing. 

Not only were the relationships poorly developed throughout the story, but the historical fiction aspect of the story was nonexistent. To be fair, discussions of the dangers of the Oregon Trail were brought up, but there was no historical accuracy in the story besides the surface-level information. It’s clear not much further research was conducted besides “people traveled the Oregon trail around 1849.”

After reading this book, I feel thoroughly unsatisfied and highly disappointed. It felt like a sad attempt to make 12 year olds feel more mature about their reading, though even the way such mature themes were presented was also done in a clunky, inelegant fashion. 

In terms of a rating, I don’t want to give any roses to this story. There is no redeemable aspect, it felt unfinished. Not even a happy ending could revive this story from the ashes of terrible Young Adult Novels. 

Because of that, I will grant this story a one out of five stars. Anything more would be misleading to anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction/young adult/love story combination novel. 

Feel free to pick it up if you dare, but don’t say you weren’t warned.