Review: Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher by Lenore Hart

Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher Book Cover Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher
Lenore Hart

Becky Thatcher wants to set the record straight. She was never the weeping ninny Mark Twain made her out to be in his famous novel. She knew Samuel Clemens before he was “Mark Twain,” when he was a wide-eyed dreamer who never could get his facts straight. Yes, she was Tom’s childhood sweetheart, but the true story of their love, and the dark secret that tore it apart, never made it into Twain’s novel.

Now married to Tom’s cousin Sid Hopkins, Becky has children of her own to protect while the men of Missouri are off fighting their “un-Civil” War. But when tragedy strikes at home, Becky embarks on a phenomenal quest to find her husband and save her family---a life journey that takes her from the Mississippi River’s steamboats to Ozark rebel camps, from Nevada’s silver mines to the gilded streets of San Francisco.

Time and again, stubborn but levelheaded Becky must reconcile her independent spirit and thirst for adventure with the era’s narrow notions of marriage and motherhood. As she seeks to find a compromise between fulfillment and security, she also grapples with ghosts of her past. Can she forgive herself, or be forgiven, for the lies she’s told to the men she’s loved? Will she ever forget the maddening, sweet-talking, irresponsible Tom Sawyer, the boy who stole her heart as a little girl? And when she is old, and Huck and Tom and Twain only memories, whose shadow will still lie beside her?

Review:

Becky: The Life and Loves of Becky Thatcher has an interesting premise. Tom Sawyer’s childhood sweetheart setting the record straight? Yes, please! Tell me all about the “real” people from Mark Twain’s literary adventures! Show me who Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Becky Thatcher grew up to become! Let me see Becky’s life “then” and “now” and watch as she tries to reconcile who she used to be with who she is today!

I got all of these things in Becky, but they turned out to be significantly less satisfying than I had anticipated. There were two reasons for this. The first is that I was bored out of my mind. The second is that I didn’t like a single one of the characters.

Becky just didn’t hold my interest. Scenes that should have been riveting – stagecoach robberies, Civil War battles, mining accidents – were somehow lifeless and dull. Becky is so practical and matter-of-fact about all of the events in the book that I couldn’t muster up any excitement or fear or joy for anything that happened. It doesn’t help that any real action in the book is suffocated by too many historical details and descriptions. I’m usually very interested in historical fiction, but in Becky the minutiae killed me. While I did learn a lot about the Civil War, especially that the motivations and loyalties were a lot more complex than I’d realized when studying the war in school, I quickly got lost in all the names, dates, and politics. Hard-core history buffs will likely enjoy the nitty-gritty details in the book, but they were too much for me.

My biggest complaint about Hart’s book is that I had a hard time connecting with the characters, specifically Becky and Tom. Characters don’t necessarily need to be likable for a book to be a success, but I do feel a reader should be able to sympathize with them at least a little bit. That wasn’t the case here at all. I couldn’t stand how selfish Tom and Becky both are and couldn’t summon any empathy for either of them. Nor could I fathom what Becky found so appealing about Tom. He’s supposed to be bursting with charm and charisma and an adventurous spirit, but all I could see was his immaturity and asshole-ness.

And Becky…don’t even get me started. I couldn’t stand her. She’s determined and brave, yes, but that’s because she’s looking out for priority number one – herself. I get that she goes to great lengths to rescue her husband in the middle of a war, but it seemed to me that she tries to get Sid back not because she wants to keep him safe, but because she doesn’t want to be inconvenienced by not having her protector and helpmeet there. If she really loved or cared about Sid at all, she wouldn’t have cheated on him with Tom, end of story. This made it impossible for me to respect her, and even if she hadn’t been a cheater, her hard pragmatism and gruffness would have kept me at arm’s length.

I’m being hard on Becky, but I was so looking forward to this being a different kind of book. Again, hard-core fans of historical fiction will probably take to this story much more than I did, but it was decidedly not for me.

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