cover image Sarny


Gary Paulsen. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32195-2

In this somewhat contrived sequel to Nightjohn, set in post-Civil War New Orleans, 94-year-old Sarny reflects on her first few years as an emancipated slave. On the day the plantation master is killed by a Union soldier, Sarny heads to New Orleans to find her two sold children. A series of unlikely coincidences follows: the wealthy ""Miss Laura,"" who offers Sarny and her friend Lucy a ride, just happens to know the owner of Sarny's children, who arrive at the party she throws upon returning to New Orleans. In the fairy-tale ending, Miss Laura offers Sarny and Lucy refuge and employment in her stately home, then leaves all her money to Sarny when she ""passes on."" Miss Laura, an ""octoroon"" who ""passes"" for white, is an intriguing figure with a shadowy past: ""There's some to say later that Miss Laura wasn't a moral person...."" Paulsen never clarifies, however, how she makes her money or developed her connections with generals and bankers, although he hints at prostitution. Sarny is a noble character who carries Paulsen's message of the power of literacy (e.g., she can read the auction papers that lead her to her children, and she starts a school to teach others to read). While the story is a page-turner, and may serve middle-grade readers well as an introduction, young adults more familiar with the complexities of America after the Civil War may find that this sugar-coated tale goes down a bit too easily. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)