Tom Sawyer, originally published in 1876, exemplifies the boy every child wants to be; free, adventuresome, moral, and intelligent. Born in the heart of the South, in Missouri, Tom is much like the young author, Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain); a boy distrustful of routine, spirited, and possessing a strong sense of right and wrong. Tom, an orphan, lives with his Aunt Polly and cousins and loves to play hooky so he can go fishing. His aunt tries her best to tame him, dragging him to church and punishing his rebelliousness. Mondays are the worst for him because a week of dull education looms before him. If Tom is late, like he is so often, he will probably be the recipient of the switch, laid gustily upon his back by the boring schoolmaster. On a certain Monday, his heart soars because there is a new girl in school by the name of Becky Thatcher, and he is instantly in love. He gives her a doorknob as a sign of his affection and things look bright until he blunders by announcing the name of his previous heartthrob, Amy Lawrence, and Becky has a fit. That night he sneaks out of the house with Huckleberry Finn and witnesses Injun Joe, Dr. Robinson, and Muff Potter robbing graves. An argument ensues between Potter and Dr. Robinson and Potter is struck down. Injun Joe kills the doctor, putting the knife in the now unconscious Potter’s hand. Potter awakens and thinking he has killed Dr. Robinson, begs Joe not to tell anyone and the two flee the scene. Huck and Tom decide to keep mum and swear a blood oath after which Tom creeps back home. The next morning his Aunt cries over him and Tom receives back the doorknob he has given to Becky. The body of the murdered doctor and the bloody knife are soon discovered and the town is in chaos. Potter is caught and begs Joe to help him, but the Indian lets him be taken away. Tom is filled with guilt and feeling forsaken and friendless joins up with Huck. Using their raft the pair paddle to an island in the middle of the river and sleeps the night. They hear booms the next morning and discover that the townsfolk are searching for someone who drowned; firing cannons to make bodies rise to the surface. It dawns upon Tom that it is them everyone is searching for! They allow the town to believe they are dead and Tom visits Aunt Polly while she sleeps. Homesick and having had enough of the island they attend their own funeral and overhear all the wonderful things said about them after they’ve apparently died. At the end of the service, teary and guilt-ridden, they spring from the balcony and confess they are still alive.
Tom returns to school and saves Becky from a flogging when she accidentally tears the schoolmaster’s anatomy book. Tom takes the blame and the beating and Becky loves him again. Summer vacation rescues all the children from school but Tom gets the measles and part of his summer is wasted, plus Becky and her family go away for a while. After he recovers the trial of Muff Potter is held and Tom daringly testifies that he saw Injun Joe, not Potter, kill Dr. Robinson. Injun Joe escapes and Potter is freed and Tom becomes an instant hero! Later that summer, while playing Robin Hood, Huck and Tom come upon what they call the haunted house and discover that Injun Joe and his partner have buried some loot near there and plan to soon take off for Texas after pulling one last job. Before he can tell anyone Tom becomes distracted by Becky returning from holiday and her family announcing a picnic. Tom and Becky explore the caves near the picnic site but get lost. Tom assures Becky that they will be searched for and taking kite string out of his pocket to serve as a guide tries to find a way out. What he finds instead is Injun Joe holed up in the cave. Tom manages to find his way out and both he and Becky recuperate from their ordeal. It is after a couple days that Tom learns that Judge Thatcher, Becky’s father, had the cave sealed up. Tom reveals that Injun Joe is in the cave and a new manhunt begins. The murderer is found days later, a victim of starvation and Tom and Huck can breathe a sigh of relief. The boys reveal the loot’s location and become rich as well as being touted once again as the town heroes. Twain ends his tale with the fact that most of the characters are still happy and well, but his story deals strictly with children and he refuses to go past that point. This lovely and lively tale is a must-read for all Twain fans. It brings back the excitement and folly of youth and best yet reminds us of our own curiosity-filled youths. All of us have a little Tom Sawyer in us!