Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Novella Review: Nightjohn

Title: Nightjohn
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).
My Thoughts
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.


grandma jane said...

Thanks for this review...

This book sounds as brutal as that time in US history. But of course we still need to remember/learn. . . I'm wondering how you came by this particular book? I'm sure some moms and teachers will appreciate the warning for this one.

For those unfamiliar with this author, don't discount his contributions to young readers as he's written a number of award-winning books for teens. Paulsen's forte seems to writing about survival in a harsh environment. I offer this only because I believe this is the only book by Paulsen discussed on this blog.

MG, I think you have an impressive variety of reviews here --quite the accomplishment to date!
Thanks for keeping this going and for introducing new material to explore, most recently for me the books (because of your reviews), Between Shades of Gray and Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, also about survival....

Maria Gianna said...

I actually came across the book in a school curriculum for middle school. I was shocked while reading it too. I completely agree that it's important stuff to know about, but maybe not in this way or at this age--haven't decided that yet.

Agreed. I'm going to try to get more Paulsen stuff up, since his other books aren't like this. I agree that he's all about survival. He has a very interesting talent for working on close first person.

Thank you! I try to read, listen, and watch to a large variety of things, and post about them. Sometimes it seems like I tend to lean toward the same things, so it's nice to hear that it actually comes across as a good mixture. Yes, Ruta Sepetys is incredibly skilled and I'm so glad she does what she does so well.

Thank you for continuing to be a loyal reader!