Under a Painted Sky

4.5 stars, actually.

I guess I’m a sucker for historically accurate-sounding books where plucky young heroines dress up as boys in order to go on adventures (or in Sam and Andi’s case– escape a wrongful murder charge and slave owners). There’s even a romance thread when our two adventurers meet up with a trio of cowboys who help them down the Oregon Trail.

There’s a lot to like in this book. Sam and Andi both have to contend not only with gender issues, but also racism. Andi does talk in dialect, and the cowboys, especially Cay Pepper the ladies’ man, speaks in cowboy lingo that luckily he translates for Sam about a third of the time. There’s also the added pleasure of the Mexican vaquero’s Spanish.

This is a trail-riding story. While Sam and Andi both have people they’re hoping to find on the trail, mostly its about sleeping under the stars, practicing lariats, cooking with wild greens, sewing vents into your boy’s clothing so as not to sweat too much, and learning to ride horses.

Very fun. I took away half a star because Andi’s stories were weirdly Chinese-flavored literature which I thought strange (since she couldn’t read nor do her sums as a born slave) and also because we never get a satisfactory (to me) resolution on Sam’s search for her mom’s jade necklace in this book.

But the romance does have a conclusion, and there is a lot of mishaps and adventures involving outlaws and heart-pounding battles hanging from waterfalls, and almost-drownings crossing rivers. So totally worth your trouble. There’s a bit of kissing that doesn’t get too specific and even the scene where Sam has to defend herself from unwanted attentions in the beginning is quite vague about what the dude actually wants. There’s a scene where two people are described as “wrestling” but other than a rendition of Yankee Doodle from the cowboys “unshucked” there’s nothing here I wouldn’t want my adolescent daughters reading, and much about racism in pioneer times, persevering, and girl-friendship I would want them to read.