Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson


This review was written by: B
Received: Library
Publication Date of Book: July 2014
Pages: 224
 Stars: (4/5)  

 I kept my eyes down and picked at the scab on my knee, afraid to look up at her. Gently, she cupped my chin in her hand and tilted my head up to meet hers.  "You leave that scab alone, you hear me?  Keep picking and picking at something like that, making it bleed over and over, and your whole leg will be ruined.  Knees and hearts take enough bruising from life as it is.  They ain't meant to be beat up by your own self."
       -Miss Ada     

To be truthful, I was very hesitant going into this book.  It is very rare for me to not love a piece of literature that I pick up.  I'm funny like that, always enjoying every book.  That being said, I really respect and enjoy some of Mark Twain's work, but "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" simply wasn't for me.  When a friend of mine at the library offered "The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher" as a possible read, I was skeptical.  In the end, I promised them that I would read it and then hoped for the best.  The end result is simply WOW!  Jessica Lawson blew me away!  Before I get too carried away with my thoughts on this subject, I'll give you a little overview on what to expect in Jessica's book. 

Becky Thatcher's family recently moved to St. Petersburg, Missouri, in an attempt to start over.  Once her dear older brother, Jon, died roughly a year ago, her father, Judge Thatcher, decided they needed a change.  Becky's mother, yet to fully get over her son's death, keeps to herself and has faltered in her attempt to start living again.  To keep her brother close, Becky wears Jon's old overalls in hopes to make it feel as though the pressure building in her chest is  Jon's arms around her instead of the grief that threatens to overwhelm Becky's very being.  Not only does she do this, she also carries around his precious bag of marbles wherever she goes.  She promised that she'd take them on all of her adventures so that he can be a part of them as well.  Now, all Becky has to do is find adventures in this sleepy little town.

While Judge Thatcher frequently asks his daughter to start acting like a lady and grow up while taking responsibility, Becky continues to spit cherry pits, sneak out of the house at night, and make trouble.  It's not a big surprise when she quickly befriends one of the town's well known troublemakers, Sid Sawyer.  Sid lives with his tattletale younger brother, Tom, and their Aunt Polly.  Sid loves adventures while Tom's too scared to have one of his own.  With Sid's bosom friend, Joe, they strike a deal with Becky to steal from the Widow Douglas, the "town witch."  Becky then makes friends with Amy whose father happens to be the town drunk.  Amy's still going through the long lasting effects of her mother's death, bonding the two girls through a tie of loss.  Amy is then recruited in the Widow Douglas extravaganza.  In their preparation of gathering graveyard soil prior to their thievery job so they can protect themselves from the "witch," they see more than they bargained for.  Wanted murders are in Becky and Amy's sight.  Perhaps Becky got more than she bargained for in the adventure department.  What will happen next, and what in the world did these two get themselves into?           

In the middle of this well-written story is Samuel Clemens, also known as the famous Mark Twain, right in the center of Becky's adventures.  He's staying with the Sawyer family while waiting for the parts of his broken boat to come in.  He's consistently found writing down his thoughts and things that the children tell him, such as the idea of attending your own funeral (wink wink for those "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" fans) and having adventures for those who are too afraid to embark on them.

Jessica Lawson wrote a fantastic novel that really made me interested in what her story was played off of.  I never in a million years believed that I would enjoy something like this, but I did truly and unexpectedly love it!  To explain to you what this book is about, I must use an excerpt from Lawson's "Author's Note" page: This novel is meant to be an origin story, suggesting that Clemens's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was actually inspired by a happenstance stop in a small Missouri town during the author's river piloting days and, more specifically, by the adventures of a young girl he encountered there, Becky Thatcher. While I realize that this was not the reason for Mark Twain's book, it was imaginative and intriguing, not to mention clever on Jessica's part. 

I loved how every character in this book was depicted as someone so distinct and different from Mark Twain's original creations.  Sid and Tom practically swapped places.  No longer is Sid the tattletale and the "good child."  Tom has taken up that role.  Becky isn't the sweet girl who is engaged to Tom Sawyer, a friendless little boy in this story.  Becky is someone entirely different, and she was so well voiced, a superb strong presence.  Full of drive, courage, and loss, she's certainly a character not to be rivaled with.  The character of Sam Clemens was my ultimate favorite to read about.  Every time he showed up, he was so captivating to hear about and listen to.  The way that Lawson decided how certain things or people, such as Huck's character and the original Tom formed by this new one, got to be represented in the timeless and classic tales was so brilliant.  I was caught smiling at the end.

What truly amazed me in this book is something of a theme that I keep mentioning: loss.  It didn't weigh down the story too much, but its presence was there nonetheless.  The book had such profound thoughts on the subject.  This was shown in Becky's heart and mind which never stopped wondering when her mother would get over her deceased son and start to spend time with the one who was still living.  Becky realizes that Jon's death isn't something so easily forgotten, he'll always be there even if he's not with them, but she still deals with the struggle daily.  When Becky's mother refuses to acknowledge many of Becky's actions, Miss Thatcher's left with a feeling of being dead to her mother.  I never expected this subject matter in The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher's content.  However, it was such an enrichment to the story.  It made me love Becky more and realize what an amazing character she truly was.

All in all, The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher was a fabulous read.  However, I did lose interest in the book for twenty or so pages, henceforth the four stars, but I was quickly thrown headfirst back into the story once the adventure began again with no ending in site.  While Jessica's writing style was similar to that of Twain's own voice (an on purpose action, I'm sure), she also put her own heart into it.  It was great!   If you loved Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, I'm certain that you'll love this book just as much.  It's funny, endearing, and a true voice in today's literature.  If you haven't read Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn's stories yet or didn't like them so much maybe you should give this book a try.  If you've never heard of or read those books, read this book anyway because it is definitely something to consider.  You might be surprised.  I know I sure was, and who knows...maybe I'll go and pick up The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and give it a try...all thanks to Jessica Lawson!

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