The first and only time I had previously read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was back in middle-school or late elementary school. Since then I've read a lot of Mark Twain's short stories and a number of his novels. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of my favorite books and I've read it a pile of times but until now I'd never revisited Tom Sawyer.
One of the things I love about Twain's writing is just how real and honest everything feels. Very quickly I felt myself pulled into the world of St. Peterburg. I absolutely love the flow and tone of the language. It's just so fluid and friendly. I love Twain's narrative style as he makes commentary on situations or behaviors. I can almost hear his snarky voice as he satirizes the sanctimonious behavior of some of the adults as set against the devil-may-care (yet very superstitious) attitudes of the children.
I vaguely remembered bits of the larger plot of the story but as I was reading I was struck by how much this book is a compilation of shorter stories instead of one single big plot piece. Admittedly there is the overall thread of Tom and Huck and their adventures with Injun Joe, but that particular story thread often goes many chapters completely forgotten, much in the way a child will forget some of their worries and cares as soon as the next big adventure comes along.
This book is definitely lighter in tone than Huckleberry Finn. It's not addressing heavy topics like slavery. But it still has plenty of weighty segments alongside the frivolous fun. There are plenty of subtle morality lessons as well as very dramatic scenes. I really enjoyed the tension as Tom and Becky sat in the dark cave watching their candle go out or the suspense as Tom and Huck sat upstairs in the haunted house waiting for Injun Joe to come up the stairs and find them hiding there. These segments were a fun balance to the light hearted adventures of boys playing pirates or whitewashing the fence.
While not as outrageous as Huckleberry Finn, there are segments in this book that may be potentially offensive or off-putting to some readers. The boys do observe a grizzly murder, though it isn't described in ghastly turns. There is also a lot of talk about superstition and witchcraft and sneaking out in the middle of the night for special ceremonies for luck or play. Beyond these elements (which are quaintly fun and characteristic of the world at that time and place), the boys also run away from home and spend days cussing and smoking and when they do return home they only get mild chastisement. Tom comments how he's going to impress the other boys by pulling out his pipe and smoking around them. While the behavior doesn't get much more applause than this (and it actually makes him very sick the first time he smokes), it doesn't get particularly villainized either, which could certainly be a cause for shock in some readers. I think as long as the reader understands the context, it shouldn't be a problem. And if a parent or educator is giving this book to a young child to read, it could be a good teaching point.
Being a fan of Mark Twain, I certainly have some bias, but I can wholeheartedly recommend this book. I plan on pushing it on my unsuspecting children and hope they enjoy it as much as I do. It's a true pleasure to go romping around with Tom Sawyer and his friends as they get up to adventures and into and out of trouble. If you've read it before, pick it up again and find old friends. And if you've never read it, you should definitely give it a read. It's tons of fun and definitely stands up to the test of time. As a note, there are a lot of Abridged versions out there (presumably to remove some of the potentially offensive segments). Do yourself a favor and read the unabridged version. You don't want to miss any of the fun.
5 out of 5 stars
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