The Adventures of Joe Harper

Written by Phong Nguyen
Review by Val Jensen

It has been ten years since Joe Harper left home in St. Petersburg, Missouri to follow the wanderlust fancies of Tom Sawyer. Ten years as a pirate under Captain Sawyer, however, has changed Joe into a sorrowful, guilt-stricken man. Upon his return home, he finds his mother dead and his old life unrecognizable. Joe’s only aim now is to find the right cave in which to die. Thus starts Joe Harper’s adventure across the frontier, where he befriends and travels with Lee, an astute Chinese hobo, Ruth, a runaway Amish girl, and numerous other vagabonds who add to the hilarity and suspense of their journey west.

Nguyen’s addition to Twain’s classic does not disappoint. Stylistically, Nguyen’s ability to capture the vernacular of 1870s Missourian hobo life is one of the marvels of this piece of fiction. Narrated in the first person from Joe’s perspective, the story feels smooth, and aside from a couple of dream sequences, the timeline is straightforward. I did question the premise of the plot in the beginning. I wasn’t sure the plot was going to drive me on towards the finish line. At the start, what kept me intrigued was style. Towards the middle, the characters came to life, and I noticed and appreciated the novel’s comedy. In the last third, the plot kicked in with a new character, and it was full steam ahead towards the ending.