I read this as a teenager and enjoyed it. I read it again in college. And again. And again. In fact, I don't think I ever plan to stop reading it. I have it on audiobook and whenever I have trouble sleeping, this is on my list of things to listen to.
Let's start with the good stuff. It takes place in a small mid-western village in the 1830's or 1840's. There's a bunch of kids, running around playing, skipping school, falling in love, having adventures, getting whippins, fishing, smoking, seeing people get murdered, getting lost in caves, kissing behind the schoolhouse, playing with bugs, stealing rafts and running away to be pirates, chasing bad guys, going on treasure hunts, exploring haunted houses, and getting rich!
Sheesh! What's not to love? This is Mark Twain at his best. Take all his other works, and imagine what they would be if he had never written Tom Sawyer. This book was his foothold into greatness - even beyond his first book, The Innocents Abroad. Well, that's perhaps a philosophical debate.
Early on in the book he meets and falls in love with Becky. I promise you, this is one of the best, cute little love stories I've read. Then he runs into his friend, Huck Finn, the outcast. Huck is the bad kid because his mother is dead. Yep, those were quaint old times. No one just took him in to raise him when his mom died and his father ran off. Nope. They let him live on the streets and hated him for doing so. Okay, I know that sounds odd. Interestingly enough, Mark Twain wasn't writing satire when describing that. It was just how things were and even Mark Twain's biting social commentary didn't notice anything wrong with that. I suppose in a way that in itself is humorous.
Anyway, I won't go into details about the story. It's long and full of adventure, and everything that happens ties in neatly together. All plots and subplots revolve around the main character, Tom. There is no subplot of his aunt falling in love with the town butcher, or his sister applying for some eastern school for girls, or anything like that. It's all Tom. And Huck. But mostly Tom. Huck does play a better role towards the end, and that leads very nicely into the sequel.
I know one of the common complaints today is the use of the "N" word, as well as the fact that this book takes place in slave days, in a society that condoned slavery. Well, we can't do anything about the latter. But many people try to do something about the former. All I can say is this - if I read this to my kids, I would not read the "N" word. If someone wants to edit that out so kids can read it, that's fine by me. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to erase history or destroy this book. But it's in the public domain, and there's a bazillion copies of the original floating around the world. No one can erase the original. But to come up with a version suitable for my 10 year old to read would be helpful. If the "F" word were sprinkled around in there, I wouldn't complain if they came up with a version that changes it. And the "N" word is just as volatile.
Either way, it's the sort of book that should be read by every kid growing up. It's the sort of adventures we all dream of having when we're young. One of the absolute best chapters in all of literature starts out like this.
"There comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy's life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure."
That line says it all. This book is for anyone who is either young, or still remembers when they were.