The story concerns the inquisitive slave-girl Sarny, and her life-changing encounter with Nightjohn. Nightjohn is brought to her plantation by her owner as a slave and joins the slave community there. He is different than any other person Sarny knows, and bears a secret worth knowing. Nightjohn offers to barter to get some tobacco from Sarny, and she is incredulous, thinking to herself:
What you got to trade? You come in naked as the day you was born... and you're ready to go trading?Over time, Sarny starts to learn his secret. Unfortunately, she is only a child and very young to be trusted with such illicit knowledge; when she reveals the secret, as children will do, the consequences for the slave community on the platation are dire and her guilt is awful.
Even so, Sarny is forgiven; her community expresses uncommon wisdom by recognizing that expectations of discretion from a child were unrealistic, and they never blame her. Instead, she is challenged to put the energy of her guilt to work fulfilling a greater purpose.
I read the book in one sitting, as the story is so compelling. The conditions in which Sarny lived and the trials she and her community experienced are heart wrenching. The author does a wonderful job in capturing the dialects of the characters, and in representing int he fictional story the events based on the historical record. After I completed the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is a sequel which continues the protagonist's story, and I will be reading that once my order arrives.
related post: Sarny by Gary Paulsen