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Sun, 12 Sep 2010 19:10:42 -0400
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_Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer_. By Tim Champlin. Pill Hill Press,
2010. Pp. 219. Paperback. $9.99 ISBN 13-978-1-61706-032-8.

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac Donnell.

Copyright (c) 2010 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

One of the measures of Mark Twain's continuing popularity and cultural
influence are his frequent appearances as a character in contemporary works
of fiction. Shakespeare, Dickens, and Jane Austen have reason to be jealous.
Emily Dickinson, William Faulkner, and James Joyce are no-shows, and you can
just forget all about Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, or T. S. Eliot.

Mark Twain's latest appearance is in Tim Champlin's most recent novel for
young readers, based on his own experiences growing up in the 1940s and
1950s in a Missouri River town. Champlin's previous book, _Fire Bell in the
Night_ (2004) also used Twain as a character. In that book Twain is a grown
man who shoots dead an assassin who was stalking Rudyard Kipling (was I
wrong to be rooting for the stalker?). This time around we encounter a
teen-age Sam Clemens on his home turf near Hannibal.

The story begins in 1950 in a Missouri River town with twelve-year-old Matt
Lively, who, like every boy that age, wants summer to never end. He'd rather
go adventuring with his friends. Early on he encounters a bully and fights,
and from that point on Champlin artfully draws the reader inside the mind of
a boy. Matt soon encounters a mysterious tramp named Thatcher who seems to
know more about Matt than any mortal could possibly know. Matt visits a
museum and sees an old steamboat wheel, and a short time later he and his
friends are building and launching a boat of their own, smoking corn-cob
pipes, and breaking windows in an old cabin in the woods. He even visits
Hannibal and the Mark Twain Cave, and any young reader with half his wits
about him will have figured out by now that Matt is being primed for an
adventure. When he again encounters Thatcher, there is talk by the old tramp
about going back in time to save a life and find some lost treasure, and
it's now clear what kind of an adventure it will be.

But before that can happen Matt comes down with typhoid fever when he gets
home from Hannibal, and a short time later seems to wake up as if from a
dream. Until that moment his world was filled with buffalo nickels, street
cars, Coke in bottles, Hardy Boy and Penrod books, Esterbrook fountain pens,
Dick Tracy comics, catching lightning bugs, developing his own film, and
playing kick-the-can (things that most young readers today will not
recognize). The world in which he has awakened has none of those things, and
it also has no aspirin, no telephones, no cameras, no baseball games, no
airplanes, no bicycles, no radios, and no outboard motors. Matt misses the
modern conveniences, but also notices that a world without trains, sirens,
cars, buses, and highways is a very quiet world.

Matt has a few dollars in his pocket and his Brownie camera clipped to his
belt, but no other traces of his former existence accompany him back in time
except one of his friends. It does not take long before he meets Tom, Huck,
and Joe Harper, and discovers that this new world in which he finds himself
is Hannibal, Missouri in 1848. He spends a night on Jackson Island, and he
meets Becky Thatcher at a circus, where there are three clowns performing.
He also meets Jim who now works for pay for the Widow Douglas, and he meets
Aunt Polly too. Along the way he swaps his paper money for some gold coins,
and he snaps a few photos. Then comes news that Judge Thatcher's office has
been robbed of the gold he was keeping for Tom and Huck, and it would appear
the three clowns were the culprits. Next follows a steamboat trip to St.
Louis where Matt and his friend meet young Sammy Clemens and make a new
friend, but poor Sammy drowns while taking soundings in a small boat. After
Sammy is pulled from the water Matt desperately performs CPR, but as life
ebbs from Sammy's body, Tom and Huck slowly dematerialize and fade from
view. Does Matt save his new friend, and do Tom and Huck come back to life?
Maybe; maybe not. I reckon this reviewer ain't no spoiler.

Matt later recognizes three men trying to hitch a ride on the steamboat as
the three clowns who robbed Judge Thatcher and hatches a plan to get back
the gold. Will young Matt fulfill the prophecies of the old tramp who wanted
him to save a life and recover a lost treasure? Maybe; maybe not. But when
Matt next awakens he's back in the year 1950, and it all seems like a
dream--except for the gold coins in his pocket and the photos he took with
his camera.

Although the plot devices are familiar, Champlin moves smoothly between
cinemagraphic scenes and the minds of his characters, and weaves together a
convincing yarn that will hold the interest of most young readers. In the
process they'll get an idea of how it was to grow up in 1848 and in 1950,
and maybe even be provoked to read more about Tom and Huck, and that sopping
wet young lad, Sammy Clemens.