Sarny is a sequel to Nightjohn (please see separate entry), also narrated by Sarny. In Nightjohn, Sarny is a twelve-year-old girl who is taught to read and write by an imposing man named Nightjohn. According to Paulsen, he has been asked many times about what happens to Sarny after the ending of Nightjohn, and Sarny is an answer to the questions.
Sarny is an historical novel about the end of slavery in America and the years in the South thereafter, and it is narrated by Sarny, who is ninety-four years old and living in a convalescent hospital to which she committed herself several years before when she realized she could no longer take care of herself. Her story is about the horrors of slavery and the Civil War, yet also fortitude, determination, and intelligence. She is a memorable figure, devoted to her friends, as well as to Nightjohn's mission to bring literacy to African Americans.
Sarny was a child in Nightjohn. The title character from that book taught her to read. This book takes place when she is in her nineties and reflecting on the horrors of slavery and the Civil War. It is a story of perseverance, and the need for literacy (Which was the quest of Nightjohn, for African Americans).