Twain commissioned Albert Bigelow Paine to write his official biography, but because that work is three volumes long and considerably complex, Wood’s account of Twain’s life is more appropriate for young adult readers who are interested in discovering the writer in a less detailed manner. The author adopts an informal tone but still speaks with the voice of an authoritative biographer. The book’s appeal lies in the unfolding tale of Twain’s irreverence about almost everything; Twain gets away with things most people do not dare try.
Wood prefaces chapter 1 with a brief discussion of the subject that many readers will already associate with Twain: boyhood. He notes that, although Twain did not “create boyhood,” he did create two fictional characters—Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn—who “are boyhood itself.” Because Wood recognizes that Twain owes his success to the impulsive, carefree, and boyish charm of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (a personality not unlike his two famous fictional counterparts, Tom and Huck), the book focuses on the amusingly mischievous character that is the melding of Clemens and Twain.
In order to explain and define his subject, Wood shares stories that reflect Twain’s personality, and many of the author’s well-chosen details provide perceptive insights. That he was publicly shamed for his unfamiliarity with tobacco at the age of seven can be linked to his regular adult habit of three hundred cigars per month. His knack for leadership with his boyhood pals matured into his overwhelming popularity as an adult entertainer whom the nation idolized. That...
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By discussing and analyzing humor’s role in daily life, Wood enables readers to discover someone who embodied all that nineteenth century Americans desired to be. Life was truly a struggle in the 1800’s, yet it was also permeated with hope made tangible through Twain’s humor. The entertainer thumbed his nose at dignitaries he did not trust, yet he was honest and honorable when necessary. He was full of contradictions like any human, and thus became for the masses the symbol of what life could be. Wood’s ability to balance Twain’s shortcomings with his successes helps to shatter common misconceptions about literary greats and the dull or bookish lives that they are thought to live.
Because Wood’s biography, which has been critically reviewed by Horn Book and Best Sellers, is a candid discussion of Twain’s personality, and because he does not hesitate to include a discussion of Twain’s volatile side, Wood becomes a credible researcher, one whom young adult readers can trust. Wood, a prolific author of material for young adults, perceptively views young people as honest and thus attempts to be clear and honest in his writing also; the author is not as interested in critic’s comments as he is in writing to please himself and others. Readers will find that Spunkwater, Spunkwater! is historically accurate, entertaining, and informative.