Author: Stacey Lee
Provided Synopsis: 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.
Review: I am so torn. As you will go on to see from my review, there are many aspects of this book that I enjoyed tremendously. While on the other hand the relationship between two main characters left me puzzled.
But let us start with the good: this book is an adventure! Samantha is an Asian-American young girl living in Missouri with her father; early in the story a tragedy occurs, which leaves her a criminal wanted by the law and on the run with her father’s landlord’s slave, Annamae. With the road to the Oregon Trail practically on their front door steep, these two decide to try their luck on the road, dressed as boys and going by the names Sammy and Andy, to find their fate and future. Along the way they come to join up with a trio of young cowboys who become their friends and family.
I could feel the heat and the dust of the road. The fear of being discovered at locations on the trail heavily populated by people was palpable. Whether it be the sound of Sammy’s music on the violin or the rope around the characters at night, all of the elements came together to place me amongst this cast and thus have me be heavily invested in them. I cannot say enough about how each of these characters grows on you over time. Nor can I applaud the author enough for not only offering a YA story set in a completely different setting than is popular within the genre (on the Oregon Trail), but for offering such a racially diverse cast of characters who learn about each other, teach each other, and are accepting of cultures.
As for what I did not like: the romance. No matter how often I have pondered this story upon its completion there continues to be no way for me to reconcile my confusion. Why did Sammy even like West, or vice versa? It seemed as if they could barely speak most of the time as he was continuously frowning. At first I thought it was for a specific reason, yet that was disproved at the end. So what was the deal? How could supposed love grow out of this situation truthfully? Why was West always scowling at her in the first place – because she is Chinese? I need answers. I needed to feel this romance as well as I was able to feel everything else within the story; otherwise, the romance feels contrived and the distance lingers.