The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Classic novel grapples with moral question of slavery.

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 14 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows readers the attitudes toward Black Americans and slavery during the mid-19th century in the United States. Also shows harsh realities for a fugitive from slavery, and the racist language used in reference to Black people and Native Americans. 

Positive Messages

Freedom and friendship are worth breaking the rules.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Huck and Jim are devoted friends, each willing to risk his own safety to protect the other. 

Violence

Huck's father holds him prisoner, beats him, and threatens to kill him with a knife. Several people are killed, though most of that happens "off-screen." The most graphic violence in the book concerns a wild pig and faking a death.

Sex
Language

No swear words, but characters' constant use of the "N" word is offensive and jarring to readers. Also includes several mentions of "injuns" in connection with negative behavior ("raging like an injun," "whooping and yelling like an injun").

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Huckleberry Finn's father is a vagrant who spends whatever money he can find on whiskey. More than a dozen mentions of whiskey and drunkenness. Whiskey is often connected with violence and hallucinations. In one scene, boys are given a bit of whiskey or apple brandy with sugar and water. Characters also take snuff and chew tobacco ("chaw").

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mark Twain's classic, humorous novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, set in the pre-Civil War South in the mid-19th century, tells the story of a runaway White boy and a Black man who's a fugitive from slavery, and the adventures they have on the run. Main character Huck Finn first appeared in Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Tom appears in this book, too. The story includes abuse of whiskey, as well as child beating and other real and threatened violence (though little of it is graphic). Originally published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes constant use of the "N" word, and it is frequently banned by libraries and school districts for its racist language and attitudes. However, Huck and Jim's humanity, and Huck's inner moral struggles as he questions what he's been taught about slavery actually expose the irrationality of racism.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byFrank McEvoy M. May 8, 2018

One of the Most Challenged Books Ever (It's Awesome!!!)

This novel has been in hot water since it hit the streets. (Louisa May Alcott wouldn't let it in the Concord, Massachusetts, library because she though it... Continue reading
Adult Written byVictoria S. April 28, 2017

Pretty Good

The book is really really good it shows some good morals the one problem is the drunk dad in this book.
Teen, 17 years old Written bysensible_teen September 12, 2020

A amusing classic with great themes

I really enjoyed this book, it was a great read. There are a few words that might be racially offending, but it is worth it to clearly show what it was like at... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byBlue2102 May 5, 2020

Great classic

Brilliant and funny story that follows Huck Finn, Tom Sawyers friend, throughout an adventure in the US. The novel uses racial slurs though, and it mentions vi... Continue reading

What's the story?

At the beginning of Mark Twain's THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, Huck lives with the Widow Douglas, but he can't quite settle into her civilized life of manners, school, and church. His hard-drinking Pap gets custody of Huck and tries to convince a judge to hand over the money that Huck and Tom received in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. To escape his father's harsh treatment, Huck runs away, and he soon crosses paths with a man named Jim who's a fugitive from slavery. Huck and Jim become travel companions, and along the way they encounter feuding families, a pair of con artists, and a family in mourning. All the while, Huck struggles inwardly as his conscience and basic decency conflict with what society has taught him about slavery.

Is it any good?

This controversial 19th century classic is a rollicking adventure story that poses a moral question for the reader as well as its narrator, Huckleberry Finn. Huck tries to reconcile what his upbringing has taught him about slavery with his impulse to help his friend Jim go free. Meanwhile, readers have to decide how they feel about the prevalence of the "N" word, and the fact that the novel takes place in a world where human beings can be owned like furniture. Twain portrays Huck and Jim as uneducated and superstitious, and he includes lots of laughs at their expense. Their adventures and the wild characters they meet are highly entertaining; however, the issue of racism is ever present.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the racist language in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. How did it feel to read a book that uses the "N" word in such a casual way? Do you agree with those who say this book should be banned? Or did reading this help you picture some of the realities of the slavery era in the United States? 

  • How does Mark Twain use Huck, as his narrator, to convey his point of view? What is Twain saying to readers about Jim's quest for freedom? 

  • How does this book compare to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? 

Book details

  • Author: Mark Twain
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Topics: Adventures, Friendship
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Penguin Group
  • Publication date: February 18, 1885
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
  • Number of pages: 451
  • Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: April 21, 2021

Our editors recommend

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