The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Chafed by the "sivilized" restrictions of his foster home, and weary of his drunkard father's brutality, Huck Finn fakes his own death and sets off on a raft down the Mississippi River. He is soon joined by Jim, an escaped slave. Together, they experience a series of rollicking adventures that have amused readers, young and old, for over a century.
Where I absolutely loved reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it didn't give me as much of Huckleberry Finn as I wanted, or as I deserved. This poverty-stricken outcast with a sensible head was the perfect foil to Tom's overactive fantastical mind, and I wanted to see so much more of him. Neither did I see enough commentary on the customs and beliefs of the time, particularly not on the race and slavery issues Twain touched upon, but never delved into. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has finally given me everything I wanted, truly living up to the title of Great American Novel.
Huck is still the same boy we met in the previous novel. He's been adopted and 'sivilized' by the Widow Douglas, and has hated every minute of it. He's so used to living in the great outdoors, that sleeping in a bed and wearing nice clothes are an irritant to him. When the chance comes for him to escape, he grasps it, and finds himself equal measures of adventure and trouble.
The transformation we see in Huck over these pages is remarkable and truly heartwarming. Travelling with Jim, a black man who has run from his owner, Huck treats him initially as he's been taught to treat any black slave, even considering turning him in. Slowly, as the two build up a relationship, Huck very clearly changes his reasoning, and begins to see Jim as a person with feelings and a family. He comments at one point that Jim even thinks like a white man. The build-up of their relationship is beautiful to see, and Huck's slow realisations of his own socially conditioned beliefs feel like a triumph.
Tom's appearance in the novel reinforces the difference between the two boys. At some points Tom was nothing more than infuriating, carrying out utterly ridiculous charades in order to seek adventure. Considering what was at stake when Tom was behaving in such a way, we can see he has not learned the lessons Huck has, nor does he have the same heart. Where I found Tom an entitled little bitch in the first novel, this was nothing to what I found him here.
Twain makes some very funny, yet serious, satirical comments on small town life in the United States at the time. Mainly these are in relation to attitudes on race, but he also makes clear his opinion on things like being a good person, mob mentality, and family rituals. Twain's beautiful descriptions of Mississippi were also a big hit with me, and these coming first person in Huck's simplistic narrative, were nothing short of gorgeous.
I think this book is so much more important than Tom Sawyer. Huck feels more and learns more than Tom ever did during his turn. The messages and lessons learnt here are far more ingrained than anything Tom could have achieved. An out and out classic, definitely.