Book Review: THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, by Mark Twain

Alright, I'm reviewing yet another book that I read as a kid and have recently reread: Mark Twain's THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that the best books (and the ones that I reread, again and again) are the ones I loved as a kid, but that I love even more now, books that are chock full of adult themes, but not so at the expense of the plot: the themes are skillfully maneuvered to the background, leaving the pure fun of the story intact and pretty nearly uninterrupted. TOM SAWYER is definately one of these.

All my favorites scenes were just as I remembered them, but this running commentary on the more upright citizens of St. Petersburg appeared upon rereading the book that I hadn't remembered reading as a kid--and I loved it. Of course I remembered the white-washing scene, but I'd never caught on to the narrator's aside on the nature of Work, just as I'd previously breezed through the hysterical church scene, without noticing the liberties the narrator takes in describing the minister's prayer and the congregation's reception of his sermon.

In college, I took a class on the history of satire, and when my professor (the previously-reviewed Michael Collins<) introduced Twain as one of the great American satirists, I nearly laughed out loud. Even though I'd read both TOM SAWYER and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a kid, and even though I'd picked up on the presentation of racism in Huck Finn (it's more subtle in TOM SAWYER, but it's still there), I couldn't see the satire in either one: I mean, the guy wrote kids' books, right?

And, actually, I was right on that count--Twain did write kids' books, but the books were every bit for adults, as well. When I reread Huck Finn this past summer, I was surprised that I'd even liked the book when I'd read it before, it was so serious, and so troubling, but the sense of adventure and the fascinating characters had held my attention well enough when I was a kid to bring me back to the book as an adult. I have to say that I do prefer Huck Finn over TOM SAWYER, and I always have, though that's no strike against THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER--Huck Finn is just an incredible book, and it's almost not fair to compare them. But I'm reviewing TOM SAWYER. Right.

As for Twain himself, I've not read anything else by him, save a few short stories, but I do have a huge volume of his collected articles and essays that I'm itching to break in. He's brilliant, as a satirist and as a writer--witty and snide, not the sort of guy I'd feel easy about making conversation with, but he's an absolute riot to read. THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, adult themes and all, is more fun than I thought possible in a book, really. I laughed out loud, quite a few times.


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