Perhaps I’ve been tucked away reading dystopian novels about teens rebelling against their power-hungry, post-apocalyptic leaders, sometimes travelling through characters’ past or future lives after they’ve died, occasionally using magic or superpowers to make a point. Or maybe I’ve been at work, helping older patrons track down Louis L’Amour and inspirational pioneer stories. Either way, I missed this trend.
A Western with teens? What a brilliant idea — if it works.
Throw together a Chinese-American girl who’s been orphaned and attacked by a skeevy “businessman” and a slave who’s longing to be free so she can re-connect with her older brother who’s been sold away from her. Give them the idea of pretending to be boys. Match them up with a group of young cowboys who are thinking about chasing after some gold in California. Provide some eye-opening commentary on society’s expectations of different ethnic groups, women, and men. Throw in some scary moments crossing a river, happy moments looking at the sky, a dangerous waterfall, bounty hunters, the Broken Hang Gang, a little romance … oh my!
Under a Painted Sky (Stacey Lee) does work. When you look past the time, place, and social restrictions, it’s really a character-driven story of friendship and love and possibility. Sammy and Andy become more than friends, and so do the cowboys. They create their own new family in a challenging and sometimes deadly environment, learning to trust each other even when they’ve made mistakes and learning to love even when they’ve kept the truth hidden. Saddle up and read on!