Here’s a different Becky Thatcher: She spews spitballs, prefers overalls to dresses, takes dares from boys and tracks down criminals.
In this debut novel, Becky’s voice, full of Southern expressions and superstitions, describes events that occur in her new hometown of St. Petersburg, Mo., during the time that steamboat captain and aspiring writer Sam Clemens is boarding with Tom Sawyer and Aunt Polly. As Becky digs up a beetle to avenge a cruel insult to her best friend, she muses: “I didn’t know why they were called gull beetles, but I reckoned it had something to do with the high-pitched shriek Ruth Bumpner would let out when she found one buried in her egg salad sometime in the next week or so.” Even as Becky’s adventures reveal bits of plot and characters that will later be found in Mark Twain’s writing, readers also enter Becky’s personal world, which includes the different ways she and her parents are grieving her beloved brother’s death. The novel’s predominantly light tone and narrative perspective make the flatness of the villains forgivable—there’s a sadistic schoolteacher, a snobbish family and two stupid smugglers—while Becky and her many allies are all realistically well-rounded. Beneath the lively story is a subtext that both primes readers for reading Mark Twain and responds to the question of where writers find inspiration.
Delightful. (Historical fiction. 8-12)