Under a Painted Sky
Samantha is a talented violinist who dreams of becoming a professional musician. She is also Chinese, living in Missouri in 1849, and completely on her own after her father dies. She and a runaway slave, Annamae, join forces. Disguising themselves as boys, they take the Oregon Trail to California, running from the law toward better futures.
I really loved this book. I think it's because there are so many obstacles for Samantha and Annamae (who go by Sammy and Andy on the trail), and it's easy to cheer for hard-working underdogs. The vivid details of their journey never slow the pacing, and the themes of courage, persistence, and overcoming prejudice are compelling throughout the character-driven story. There is some unexpected humor as well as triumph as they continue to try to conceal their identities on the road in a world with vastly different expectations for men and women. There is an element of romance, which might be disappointing to some readers, but it doesn't take away from the strength of the protagonists.
"As one of only two Chinese families in New York, which, though few, was twice the number in St. Joe, Father and I were more a curiosity than a threat. People mostly left us alone. Sure, we met our share of bigots, casting their eyes in our direction every time something went amiss . . . But, for the most part, people respected Father. He could speak their language, and he made it his business to bridge their differences.
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