As most know by now, I am a huge fan of Mark Twain and his literary child Huck Finn. I recently wrote a review to a sequel to the original for Amazon and Goodreads, and thought I would share it here as well, as I think I actually did a decent job of it.
When it comes to 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' sequels and spinoffs, I’ve pretty much read them all—and there are quite a few. Of course, Twain made his own attempts—some finished, one nearly so, others abandoned at various stages. There was a pair written in the 1930s by Clement Wood ('Tom Sawyer Grows Up', 'More Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'). The 100th anniversary brought us 'The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' by Greg Matthews, and the last decade has brought a rash of spinoff books, focused on side characters such as Huck’s Pap, Jim’s wife, and Becky Thatcher. Other authors even attempted to finish the work Twain started with 'Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians'. One by one I’ve devoured them. So when I heard about Sam Sackett’s 'Huckleberry Finn Grows Up', naturally I was inclined to check it out.
Attempting to follow Twain’s masterwork is a tall order for anyone. The end of the Twain original promises “howling adventures” for Huck as he “lights out for the territory.” Naturally, this is the path that most sequel writers have followed--to varying degrees of success. In this book, yes, Huck does go west. But Sackett does something different. The boyhood adventures of Huck are gone and in the territory, Huck becomes a man.
What becomes apparent during this opening section is that the idea of Huck having “howling adventures” in the territory was only a fantasy. In fact, Twain himself seemed to reach this conclusion during his aborted attempt to write a sequel—the attempt ended shortly after Twain implied that a female character had been raped. The facts as Twain saw them unfolding during an adventure in the territory negated his attempt at creating a fantasy. There would be no true sequel to 'Huck Finn' written by his creator.
Sackett avoids these complications by using his vast knowledge of history to carve out a credible path for Finn to follow. The adventures may not be howling, but historically, they ring true. Using clues and markers of Huck’s personality from the original text, Sackett writes a sequel to 'Huckleberry Finn' as if Huck was indeed a real person. Adding force to this idea, as a framing device, it is purported that the text comes from writing that Huck himself left.
Eventually, Huck leaves the territory, heading to California for the gold rush, struck by the gold fever that captured so many of that time. These San Francisco passages are the strongest of the book.
Discouraged by the way his time in California ends up, Huck returns east, this time to Kansas. Not yet a state, Huck arrives as the territory is illogically caught up in the throes of the fight over slavery. Huck is painted sympathetically and realistically, putting to good use the lessons he learned both at the side of his friend Jim and from earlier in this novel. And Sackett clearly knows his history of Kansas, which is interesting—to a point. It does begin to grow a bit repetitive, and could have been tightened in the narrative.
Nonetheless, most readers of Twain and of Huck will be very pleased with the way Huck Finn grows up, and I recommend this tale to all fans of the novel. Sackett’s tale is a well-reasoned approximation of how Huck’s life could have unfolded. Of the many sequels to Huck that I have read, this work does the best job of making Huck a real life, flesh and blood person, and after finishing 'Huckleberry Finn Grows Up', one might even begin to wonder if indeed he was.
Those interested in Huck sequels might also enjoy the aforementioned "The Further Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Greg Matthews as well as "Huckleberry Finn in Love and War: The Lost Journals" by Dan Walker.