The #YADiveristyBookClub pick for June:
Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.
Today on the blog I’m hosting a Q & A with the lovely Stacey Lee.
Describe your book in a sentence or two.
Missouri, 1849, a Chinese girl commits a crime in self defense, and knowing the law will not side with her, flees west down the Oregon Trail with a runaway slave, dressed as boys.
What was your inspiration for writing UNDER A PAINTED SKY?
My family! My mom’s side came to the United States in the late 1800’s, and there were certainly Chinese in the United States well before that. I’d always wondered how a Chinese girl born in the U.S., who spoke perfect English, would’ve been treated back then, and so Sammy’s story was born.
What kind of research did you have to do to make sure your characters were authentic?
I started at the public library. I somehow missed the lecture on the Oregon Trail that they give in fourth grade, so I had to go back to the basics, starting with the children’s section of the library. I spent hours reading books, looking at pictures, watching videos, and immersing myself in the western expansion of the United States and the Gold Rush. From there, I graduated to the adult section of the library! The most fun part was actually visiting the California Trail (an offshoot from the Oregon Trail) and speaking to old-timers there who are experts on the pioneers. I even found a ninety-year old man who still makes stage coaches and covered wagons ‘the way they used to.’ Also, despite being allergic to horses, I visited a working ranch and spoke to a cowboy about horses and the proper way to mount and ride them.
How does the diversity in your book relate to your life?
Like Sammy, I am a woman of Chinese descent, and even though 150 something years separate us in time, people still make assumptions about me based on my appearance as they did her, like being surprised when she spoke perfect English, and for me, being surprised that I don’t speak any Chinese! Also, like Sammy, some of my closest friends are diverse people because I think there are a lot of sympathies and compatibilities between people of diverse cultures. A lot to relate to.
What are some of your favorite YA books about diverse characters or by diverse authors?
I loved Sherman Alexie’s ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN, and Linda Sue Park’s A SINGLE SHARD. Lamar Gile’s FAKE ID, I.W. Gregorio’s NONE OF THE ABOVE, Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, and Kelly Loy Gilbert’s CONVICTION were some of my recent favorite diverse books. I also recently read Ellen Oh’s PROPHECY series, and that was a real treat.
What areas of diversity do you want to draw attention to or do you feel are underrepresented in young-adult books?
Asian males. I want my son to see himself in books, too. I want him to have good role models, and his friends, and his cousins, and well, everyone.
Thank you Stacey for taking the time to answer our questions!
Interested in reading Under the Painted Sky? Follow the link below to enter to win a copy!!
US ONLY. Ends 07/06 at 12:00am/c Good Luck!
Check out the other #YADiversityBookClub posts: