Author: Gary Paulsen
Release Date: 1993
Genre: slavery, education, historical fiction, novella
My Rating: *
Official Rating: young adult fiction
Age Group: 16+ (depending on maturity of the reader)
Sarny is a young girl on a plantation. One day, a new slave is brought to the plantation. His name is John, and his back bears evidence of many horrible beatings. As Sarny struggles with what goes on around her, she eventually comes to discover a dangerous secret about John: he has come to teach slaves to read.
Word of Warning
- People are referred to as "breeders" if they are going to be used in just that way.
- Horrible bloody beatings. Descriptions of dogs attacking humans.
- References to "the troubles" which is a girl's period.
- One young woman doesn't take well to breeding, and is tied up and forced to comply (basically raped). She was a little crazy in the head before, but this pushes her over the edge.
- A woman is beaten to protect someone else. Later, a man suffers the same fate.
- Someone's toes are cut off.
- A young man determined not to be old enough for the breeders shed sneaks away to a neighboring farm to meet with a girl, is caught, and then castrated (Sarny describes it as being treated like the cattle so there will be no more sneaking away to girls, but you get the idea of what's actually going on).
This is a brutal, horrible book. Paulsen did his research well, and unfortunately this is the truth, the novella even based on a true story. While the story might be accurate, and might contain hope through education, I'd warn to be very careful about handing this on to youth readers. It's a short read, and I'd recommend reading it yourself before handing it to a student or one of your own children. Just make sure that what's in the book is something they are ready for. If not, it will come as a horrible shock and hurt them deeply.