Two girls on the racial margins of mid-19th-century America team up and head west.
As the book opens, Samantha, a 15-year-old Chinese-American violinist, yearns to move back to New York City in 1849, though her kind and optimistic father, owner of a dry goods store in the bustling outpost of Saint Joe, Missouri, has great plans for them in California. When the store burns down and her father dies, she is forced to defend herself from their predatory landlord. Suddenly on the run from the law, Samantha and Annamae, a 16-year-old African-American slave who covets freedom, disguise themselves as boys and head west on the Oregon Trail. Well-crafted and suspenseful, with more flow than ebb to the tension that stretches like taut wires across plotlines, Lee’s tale ingeniously incorporates Chinese philosophy and healing, music, art and religion, as well as issues of race and discrimination (including abolitionist views and examples of cruel slave treatment), into what is at its center a compelling love story. “Sammy” and “Andy” meet up with Cay, West and Peety, three young, good-hearted cowboys with secrets of their own, who help them on their arduous, dangerous journey.
Emotionally resonant and not without humor, this impressive debut about survival and connection, resourcefulness and perseverance will keep readers on the very edges of their seats. (Historical fiction. 12-16)