Photograph of Under a Painted Sky cover with poncho, boots, and succulents
Photograph of Under a Painted Sky cover with poncho, boots, and succulents

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Stacey Lee is my hero. A whole queen, if you will. I’ve read The Downstairs Girl before, but this book, despite having a similar historical premise, managed to be completely different…and I loved it.

Still, it was clear to me that this book was an earlier publication of Lee’s. There were a lot of nitpicky editor things that I pompously noticed, and will quickly review for all of you detail-oriented snobs like me: Her introduction of the Chinese zodiac and its themes were introduced in clearly unnatural ways, leaving it to feel shoehorned in, especially in the beginning. The ending had a touch too many climaxes, leaving a hiccuping feeling. The beginning and the ending didn’t feel as connected as some more polished books do, and I had beef with the little dream sequence at the end.

BUT. I adored this book, you guys. Probably far more than I adored  Downstairs Girl. My main (and only) problem with The Downstairs Girl was its idealism and failure to fully address hard subjects. Under a Painted Sky did not disappoint me in that regard. It was full of the realities of life as a slave and as a Chinese American in the mid-1800s. I really relished the mature but positive perspective it provided, and I love Lee’s trademark introduction of representation into historical fiction.

The dynamic of all of the characters is beautiful as well. I could read about Andy all day, don’t even get me started. And the relationships within the remuda made me laugh and made me cry. It was beautiful to follow these five young people through a series of interesting vignettes, and Lee’s charming voice was the unassuming cherry on top.

So yeah, though The Downstairs Girl is getting all the press, but I would absolutely recommend picking up this less-noticed diamond hiding in the rough. Or maybe that’s just my passionate and strong dragon side coming through…