Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries)'s Reviews > The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica  Lawson
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it was ok
bookshelves: arc

See more of my reviews on The YA Kitten! My copy was an ARC I received from the publisher via Edelweiss.

I haven’t read ten words of a Mark Twain novel in my life, but like a lot of other Americans, I know a good bit about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn thanks to them being considered classics. More than a few people get the reference of Tom tricking other people to paint the white fence for him when it comes up in pop culture. A reimagining of these characters with Becky Thatcher as the tomboyish main character? I didn’t know much about her, but sure, I could go for that kind of fun! Too bad it didn’t turn out to be so fun.

The case might be that I’m not the right audience for this book in a number of ways. I don’t read a lot of middle-grade fiction and I’m long past the age of the average MG reader, but I have no prejudices against it like some harebrained adults have against YA. I’m someone who isn’t a Mark Twain fan because I know nothing of his work other than what I read on Wikipedia in the midst of reading The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher. Moreover, I’m a big fan of fanfiction, being both a reader and a former writer of it.

That last one is the most important factor without a doubt. I feel there’s a difference between a glorified fanfic and a retelling/reimagining of a well-known story. The latter adds something to how the reader thinks about and experiences the source material while standing tall as its own work; the former is akin to the negative 90% of Sturgeon’s Law I would find on Fanfiction.net and usually fails the source material. The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher reads like a glorified fanfics to me and I would have been pissed if I’d paid nearly $20 for this.

Like I said, I don’t know Twain’s work from firsthand experience, but upon the introduction of the tattletale suck-up Tom Sawyer of this novel, I figured something was off here. He didn’t resemble the well-known trickster that shared his name at all! So I went and looked up the characters and yeah, no one who loves Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn will be finding any familiar faces here. Sure, they’ll see familiar names, but this is one big out-of-character fanfic using the names of famous characters but giving them entirely different personalities. Had they been just a little different, I could understand, but they’re so different that I can’t understand why they share these characters’ names at all! I like my fanfics to bear at least some resemblance to the source material. I almost feel bad for Twain.

Even as its own story, it isn’t that good. Becky is an okay character, but she’s a very paint-by-numbers protagonist in a paint-by-numbers story. She’d b a bit better if she weren’t so anxious for a kitten to die naturally (she wants to use it for a protection spell) and she then spends a lot of the novel carrying around the corpse of said kitten. NO. DO NOT HARM OR KILL THE FICTIONAL CATS OR USE THEM LIKE OBJECTS. STOP IT. Anyway, the story itself isn’t that exciting. There’s a bet and a mean girl and a mean teacher and two murderous graverobbers and a lot of predictable stuff. The narrative voice of the novel is exactly what I imagine it would be in a girl like this novel’s Becky at her age, but that’s about all I liked. Becky is really just the typical tomboy who eschews all femininity because it’s impossible to like dirt, adventures, and dresses.

There’s a good chance I’m missing the point of the novel, but this is how I experienced it and I’ve got a duty to be honest about it.

The end of the novel presents what happens here as truth and what happens in Twain’s novels as him taking these real people and turning them into something else, which makes me side-eye fictional Sam Clemens (because yes, the author makes a cameo in this story as a pilot temporarily stranded in the town). He takes this very anachronistic girl who is and turns her into an object of idolization for Tom Sawyer, the real-life tattletale and fictional mischief-maker he writes as the latter to give the boy an adventure of his own? What an insult to Becky! The scenes where Sam and Becky discuss the nature of stories are intriguing, especially since they’re combining fiction and reality by putting a very real man in the fictional world he made up, but the insult of knowing how he casts each character in his books in comparison to how they’re portrayed “truthfully” in this novel stings me.

Maybe an appropriately aged MG reader would be really into The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, but I as a very atypical reader for this book didn’t. I can’t imagine any big fans of the Twain novels this book reimagines will like it much either.
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Reading Progress

January 10, 2014 – Shelved
January 10, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
June 3, 2014 – Shelved as: own
June 3, 2014 – Shelved as: arc
June 15, 2014 – Started Reading
June 16, 2014 – Finished Reading

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