I don’t think I’ve read this since I was a child myself, and I only remembered the highlights, which may actually be from a film version. Twain’s writing is always worth a revisit.
Tom Sawyer is a boy with ideas, always scheming or planning some big trick or adventure. He lives in the small town of St. Petersburg (inspired by Hannibal, Missouri where Sam Clemens grew up). His closest friend is Huck Finn, who Tom admires for the fact that he gets away with living just as he likes, never going to school or having a parent to trouble him. Early in the book we get a sense of Tom’s cleverness from the famous fence story where Tom convinces a lot of his friends to whitewash the Sawyer fence for him, a job he’s been assigned by his Aunt Polly, matron of the Sawyer home. Tom’s adventures at school follow, where sometimes he pulls off a good trick, and other times he takes hard punishment. A new girl at school, Becky Thatcher, has Tom enchanted from her first appearance, but it takes a long time for her to see anything in Tom. At one point Tom, Huck and one of their friends run away from home to be pirates on a small island, leaving their families sure they’ve drowned.
These typical boyhood tales are interspersed with a much scarier and more dramatic story that begins when Tom and Huck are at the town graveyard late one night and witness a murder by the town’s most dangerous character, Injun Joe. Twain plays it for all it’s worth, a truly frightening experience. Thereafter, Tom and Huck are haunted by what they’ve seen, and Tom is tempted to accuse Joe, though he feels sure he’ll pay for it, perhaps with his life. Other encounters with Joe happen, one in which Tom and Huck see Joe and his friend planning to rob and torture a rich widow, another where they see them with a large sack of money that the boys would love to get hold of.
The big finale takes place in a cave where a group of children on a party excursion go exploring, and Tom and Becky get lost. No one misses them for a while because of things Huck is up to trying to save the Widow Douglas from Injun Joe. The story of the search for the lost children, and then Tom and Becky’s story, make an exciting climax to this entertaining book, with Injun Joe’s treasure as a capper.