Set around the 1840's in a town based on Mark Twain's own hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, the book tells the story of young Tom Sawyer, who grows up in a small town on the banks of the Mississippi. It tells of his adventures with his friends Huckleberry Finn, the wild child of the town, Joe Harper, his schoolmate, and Tom's sweetheart, Becky Thatcher. Most of these adventures are innocent childhood games set against the background of a conservative, unchanging, and stable environment, but Tom and Huck's lives are changed forever when they witness a murder, and much of the story stems from this one event.
It's a wonderful evocation of what it's like to be a child - the adventures that children build up for themselves, their superstitions and games. Although I've never done anything quite as wild as Tom and Huck, I know what it's like to build dens, and spend long summers out of doors exploring the "haunted" house in the woods. And although I'm as far removed as you can be from the Mississippi, it brought back many happy memories of my own childhood.
But Tom Sawyer is even more than this - nostalgic and funny, it is at times a very dark book. The psychopathic killer, Injun Joe, is a truly horrifying creation, and there are some disturbing scenes involving his intentions towards the Widow Douglas, and his final death scene. At times macabre and gruesome, it is sometimes hilariously funny, and filled with a joyous zest for life. There are some wonderful set pieces including the boys' attendance at their own funeral. This is just a great book, and well worth reading whether you're a child or an adult. Set in a very specific time and place it is touched by a universality that will appeal to anyone anywhere.