In my fifteen years, I have stuck my arm in a vat of slithering eels, climbed all the major hills of San Francisco, and tiptoed over the graves of a hundred souls. Today, I will walk on air.
I asked Stacey Lee to tell me how she went about developing the character of the determined, gutsy hero of her YA historical novel, Outrun the Moon. Here is what she wrote:
I wanted to do a little stereotype busting with Mercy, who is the opposite of many of the Asian girls we’ve seen portrayed in media as shy, quiet, introverted, obedient, geeky or worse, exotic. She’s extroverted, charismatic, and willing to be a leader because of a cause she believes in, but not because she seeks power. She reminds me a lot of my mother who is all those things, and who grew up in Chinatown forty years after Mercy. Mom would tell me stories about herself marching up and down the hills of San Francisco wearing heels because that’s what teenage girls in the fifties did, and I imagine Mercy having the same sort of fearlessness.
And that intention comes through in the novel. The San Francisco earthquake rocks not juts the city but Mercy’s world. Her life’s longing shifts. So far, she has driven herself so she can find release from “pernicious drudgery.” Now she has to reach within and beyond herself to find out who is really capable of becoming.
A 2017 Amelia Bloomer pick.
A different kind of western here, with two girls pretending to be boys, heading out to the great beyond, following the trail of hopeful Argonauts. Each is after her own escape. “Chinaman’s daughter” Sammy is fleeing from the law after she has fought off and accidentally killed a would-be-rapist. Andy, her black friend and companion and sister in outlawhood, is fleeing enslavement.
Stacey Lee handles all kinds of subtleties with great grace in this novel. Stereotypes get turned on their heads. Andy tells a story and everyone listens with rapt attention. Sammy can hardly wait to ask her, “Was that a story from your ancestors?” Sure, yes, the ready assumption. And then Andy shakes her head and laughs it off, saying, “Nah. I made it up.”
Photo courtesy of Stacey Lee
In all, what blew me away is how this book mixes darkness with humor, despair with hope. It takes a gritty part of history and gives us a fresh look at it. Humor, clever characterization, lively writing, and the clearly drawn female perspectives lift this book above the usual western staples of plot and adventure. Under a Painted Sky switches up perspective and tells an untold narrative of the west in the same way as do books like Vaunda Nelson’s Bad News For Outlaws or Susan Krawitz’s Viva, Rose! In doing so it fills out and enriches the history, and gives young readers more complete look at the past than previous generations of books have done. And it works because the narrative stays clear and true to the main character’s vision of the world.
About the author: Stacey Lee is an award-winning author of historical and contemporary young adult fiction. A native of southern California and fourth-generation Chinese American, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because, she says, “I wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier than moving to Spain.”