The Ballad of Huck and Miguel
Written by Tim DeRoche
Illustrated by Daniel Gonzalez
The classic tale of Huckleberry Finn is updated for a modern, urban generation. All the characters from Mark Twain’s beloved classic are here, but in slightly different roles. If you enjoyed the adventure of the original, you will like this one too.
This version is set in Los Angeles. Pap brings Huck to LA with him as he attempts to seal a drug deal, but things go wrong. Huck finds Tom Sawyer and the two become fast friends. Huck manages to get away from Pap with Tom’s help, and Judge Thatcher sends him to live with Miss Watson and Ms. Douglas. Instead of the widows of the original, they are a young couple living on a ranch in the hills near LA. Huck has mountains and a stream to explore and makes friends with Miguel, who takes care of the horses on the ranch. He and Huck become good friends and Miguel teaches the boy all about how to take care of horses. Huck meets the Grangerfords, who, in this version are some sort of reality TV stars. He becomes friends with Buck Grangerford. Things seem to be going along well until Pap reappears and violence ensues. Huck and Miguel find themselves on the run, with Miguel being suspected of murder. Pap is responsible, but because Miguel is in the country illegally, he takes the blame in the public eye. Huck and Miguel escape to the river and build themselves a raft using some inner tubes and an old garage door they find. A big rainstorm provides water flow in the Los Angeles River and off they go on an adventure.
They meet all sorts of characters along the river, including a Colonel living in a tent, trolls under the bridges, some activists, the Duke and others. There are wild species like owls, coyotes, egrets, hawks, turtles, and herons that they encounter too. Pap finds them and pursues them down the river, so they are hiding from the law and from Pap as well. They travel mostly at night.
Aunt Polly is a lawyer in this version of the story, and Huck hopes that she can help Miguel with the legal trouble he is in. They are traveling toward the end of the river where Tom lives with his aunt. Huck thinks that Aunt Polly can fix it so that Miguel can stay in the country and be reunited with his family, who live in Arizona. With so many people after them, can they make it?
The dialog that Huck uses to speak is the sort used in the original, so the novel stays true to the tone of the original. Mark Twain wrote the book as a statement against the existence at that time of slavery. This modern version switches to the newer issue of immigration. Huck is still a backwoods country bumpkin in this novel, and he uses the racist terms he was taught by his father to refer to Miguel as a “Mexigrant.” Much as the original novel used the N word, this can be grating on the nerves of the modern reader. However, I think that is the point. The novel includes a politician character whose rants about immigrants have made him famous (or infamous), and that rings true with our current situation. I don’t think Huck’s character is trying to be overtly racist, but the novel is trying to deliver the same message as Twain’s original did, only with a different issue, one more current to our time period. The issue of immigration. Huck’s character comes off as sort of an innocent backwoods bumpkin who is seeing many things for the first time and learning big lessons as he goes. (It is stated in the novel that his age is “almost 9 years old,” which gives credibility to his innocent nature.) He gradually learns that things are not as his Pap taught him, that people are individuals and there are good and bad from every race. He gradually learns that the racism and discrimination are wrong.
The first people Huck meets in California are a Hispanic couple camping at the Salton Sea, and they are kind to him and feed him. So, his lessons on humanity begin right away with his arrival in California and continue throughout the novel. His best friend, Tom Sawyer, is black. The ladies he lives with are a lesbian couple. So, he learns to accept people’s differences and to discard the old prejudices his Pap taught him. His Pap turns out to be the worst one of the people he deals with during the entire novel.
I think the update to this classic tale pulls off its goal of bringing to light an issue of our time. It does it in the same way Twain intended with the original. It demonstrates through the power of character and story that people need to be more accepting of each other and their differences, and that the battle over immigration is not a faceless war, but one with many individuals, all with their own stories and struggles. They are not all out to take over the jobs. They are human beings too and just want to make a living like everyone else. The takeaway message of this novel seems to be that we really can all get along and be accepting of each other and value each other for our differences. We can be friends and even best friends. So, let’s leave all that negative stuff behind and let’s go have an adventure together.
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