Monday, June 20, 2011

About a Boy: A Review of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Title: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Author: Mark Twain
Edition: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic Book Services (1968)
Pages: 318
How I Came By This Book: The copy that I have of this book is my mom's. Like most of my aunts and uncles, she'd left it, along with a bunch of other books, at my grandparent's house after she got married and moved out and my grandmother thought I'd like to have it. It's been kicking around my shelves since I was in middle school and I hadn't gotten around to reading it.
Challenges: Books I Should Have Read By Now; The Classic Bribe; Read Your Own Books; GoodReads 2011 Reading Challenge

Synopsis: Here is the story of Tom, Huck, Becky, and Aunt Polly; a tale of adventures, pranks, playing hookey, and summertime fun. Written by the author sometimes called "the Lincoln of literature," The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was neither a critical nor a financial success when it was first published in 1876. It was Mark Twain's first novel. However, since then Tom Sawyer has become his most popular work, enjoying dramatic, film, and even Broadway musical interpretations. (from GoodReads)

Review: I chose the perfect time to read Tom Sawyer. Even though a lot of the action takes place during the school year, this book is such a summer novel. Full of laughter, mayhem, and heart, Tom Sawyer is an absolute gem of a novel.

Young Tom Sawyer wants nothing more than to fish, go on adventures, and stay away from school. He causes his Aunt Polly no end of trouble and, occasionally, heartache and he's sure to stir things up no matter where he goes in his small, rural town. Here he talks the neighborhood kids into paying him to let them white-wash a fence, runs away to be pirates with Huck Finn and Joe Harper, shows up at his own funeral (much to everyone's surprise), and witnesses a murder in a shadowy graveyard. This is a great book for boys, obviously, but I'm sure there's a lot for girls to love about Tom as well.

As this novel takes place in the South, there is a bit of a dialect that Twain uses, although it's not as heavy as the dialects in my favorite Twain novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There were only a few spots that had to be reread, but it was less because of dialect and more because of my not getting a reference that would have been more recognizable to an earlier generation of readers. Twain often assumes that his audience will be familiar with cultural references that a modern reader may never have heard of before and it occasionally interferes with comprehension.

The story is so good, however, that these few spots can be overlooked. The book acts almost like a novel and a collection of short stories at the same time. There's an overarching plot--Injun Joe/Muff Potter's involvement in a murder--but mostly the action of the novel moves forward in small chunks, almost like episodes in a TV show. Here's the episode about being pirates; there's the episode about getting lost in the cave. In this way, Twain gets Tom in and out of trouble about a dozen times throughout the narrative and keeps the reader engaged.

The characters in Tom Sawyer are endearing--mischievous Tom, worried Aunt Polly, vagrant-esque Huck. Each character has a role to play in the novel but they are memorable in their own right. While the focus of the book is on Tom, the characters around him aren't "background" characters at all. They have a voice, they have a personality, and they are instantly likable...except for Sid. He's the kind of do-good, tattle-tale you just wanted to punch when you were a kid.

I really don't have anything bad to say about this book. It's not as heavy as Huckleberry Finn in that it focuses more on the story of a boy than it does on the issues of the era. It's the kind of book that you can relax with and not have to think about. While there are some lessons to be learned about family and bravery, these can be overlooked if you're just looking for a good laugh. It's a classic that doesn't feel like a classic. In fact, it might be a good book to use to introduce young kids to the classics.

I'm giving The Adventures of Tom Sawyer 5 out of 5 Gabriels.


  1. Great review Gabriel, as always: insightful and informative, which makes me want to read this novel now! It is with great embarrassment that I have neglected to read any of Twain's famous novels although I intend to remedy the situation by finally getting around to Huck Finn this summer. Keep up the great work!

  2. Thanks! I really loved Huck Finn, even more than I liked Tom Sawyer, but both are great. I'm going to track down some of his other novels and read them as well.

  3. Woo-hoo! Such an excellent suggestion to use this book to introduce kids to Classics. And dare I say even to introduce Classic-wary adults to the genre too.

    I have visited Mark Twain's house in Hartford, CT several times and the home is as unique as the man himself.

    What a great entry to The Classic Bribe. And how nice that you got to do so by spending time hanging out inside the mind of such a creative writer.


  4. quirky girls: I agree about the adults comment. Books like this are enjoyable as well as classic and my help to convince people that they aren't all "dry and boring" like they assume them to be.

    That would be an amazing place to visit. I used to live in the Buffalo area and there was a weatherman there who used to dress up like Mark Twain and do readings and things. That's about as close as I get to the man himself. LOL

  5. This was has been sitting on my shelf for years and I know I should have read it by now. Since it's a summer book maybe I should pull it off the shelf right now.