Book Review: “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012 at 6:43 am

Reading to Know - Book ClubIt seems whenever I told someone I was reading Tom Sawyer, they responded with the question “You’re re-reading it, right?”

It seemed inconceivable to all my friends that someone as fond of reading as I would have not read Tom Sawyer. But I had to respond that I honestly did not know whether I had read Tom Sawyer before.

I knew bits and pieces, recognized the names of Tom and Huck and Becky and Injun Joe. I knew the story about whitewashing the fence (of course) and vaguely recollected the island and the cave sequences. Maybe I’d read it before-or maybe I’d picked those details up from other reading I’d done.

Now, having read Tom Sawyer, I think I can confidently assert that before this last month, I had not read Tom Sawyer (except maybe in a highly abridged children’s version.)

Now that I have read Tom Sawyer, I can say that I enjoyed reading it (Thanks, Amy, for picking it for this month’s “Reading to Know Book Club“).

Twain’s descriptions of Sawyer’s childhood brought back fond memories of long hours spent outside with minimal supervision, of brothers and cousins digging pits to who-knows-where, of “adventurous” overnights that sometimes included fire and other times included water (and on the very rare occasion involved both.)

On the other hand, certain elements of Tom’s childhood bear no resemblance whatsoever to my own. I never uttered incantations or signed my name in blood. I never ran away from home or uncovered grave robbers. I never witnessed a murder (thank God!)

I think that before I started this book (and even into the first several chapters), I expected it to be merely a collection of anecdotes with little by way of a unifying story line. I’m glad that did not turn out to be the case–for if it had, I think I would have set down the book in disgust.

Tom is such an awful little creature. He never thinks of anyone except himself and his own pleasure. He is rude, mean, conniving, and thoughtless all at once. Yes, he may have rare moments of kindness (like when he took Becky Thatcher’s beating), but these are few and far between–and one can’t in good conscience say that his misdeeds were simply carelessness and that he had a good heart behind them. No, Tom is a selfish, horrid beast of a boy. He is amusing, but he is bad.

If I had merely been expected to laugh at and enjoy Tom’s antics, I’d have despaired. But Tom Sawyer does have more of a plot than that. Because of that plot, in which Tom Sawyer is scared into being rather a better boy than he would have otherwise been, the book is redeemable and the antics become enjoyable.

I’m definitely thinking I should be reading more Twain. He’s proven by Tom Sawyer that he’s capable of writing engaging fiction–although his apparent enjoyment of Tom’s wickedness makes me wonder if the author is always so morally ambivalent. I think I’m going to reserve judgment for now and wait until I’ve read some more.


Rating:3 Stars
Category:Juvenile Clasic
Synopsis:Tom is a rascally pre-teen who finds himself in over his head when he and a friend witness the murder of the town doctor.
Recommendation: Good story, but the moral ambiguity inclines me to not recommend it for the very young or morally suggestible. I’d read it with a middle-schooler, perhaps, but I’m not sure I’d suggest that they read it on their own.

Check out this Reading to Know Bookclub post to see what other readers are saying about this book.


Reader Comments (6):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    I’m the same way: I know much about the book but I don’t know if I have ever actually read the whole unabridged version myself. But I wasn’t inclined to read it this time because what little I did know about Tom, I didn’t like. :-) And because I have so many other books stacked up that I really wanted to read. Maybe some day, though…

  2. Hmmm. . . I think I read this while wearing my English teacher’s hat more than my Mother’s hat. ;-) I think I was surprised at the continuity of the plot, too, although I think the plot itself (the murder, etc.) is the part I enjoyed the least.

    I’m so glad you read along, and I’m also happy to know that I’m not the only one who had never read it before! :-)

  3. Sky says:

    Injun Joe is definitely one of the creepiest bad guys I ever met.
    Tom Sawer is well written but I agree that I wouldn’t just hand it off to be read, especially by one of my own misCHEEvious boys!

  4. Hmmmm, got me thinking about if we will want it on our list or not. Thanks for the excellent review!

    Amy @ Missional Mama

  5. I agree with you. He was bad, but the story redeemed itself for me.

    (It still helps me to know that Tom was a composite of three DIFFERENT boys that Twain knew growing up, including himself. It mentally helps me to know that the badness was spread around.)

    I think I agree with your assessment – I’d read it with an (early) middle schooler. Unless, of course, my kids give me no cause to worry or concern and then I might read it around the age of 10. I assume 10 is under middle school age . . . ;)

  6. I think I’ve read Tom; I can’t remember! I’m fairly certain I read Huckleberry Finn in high school but again, I’m not sure. Perhaps I need to revisit one or both! Thanks for the review!

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