I first read this book at my grandmother's house, almost at a sitting, when I was about 12. My brother had been given it. Boys often were at that time, although even then it was getting on for a century old. It is a gem. A Great American Novel. This is confirmed by the fact that there were attempts to ban it almost from the moment it was first published - in England before the US, though only just. One of the joys it brings is the use of the mostly-now-vanished Missouri vernacular, notably the famous almost-last line, in which Huck vows to "light out for the Territory". There are too many linguistic delights to list, though one is "humbug talky-talk" as Huck's description of women pretending to praise each other's cooking. But it is more than exotic or folksy, it is profound. The moment when Huck decides to let Jim go free, although he believes that slavery is the natural order of things and he will go to hell for doing anything to undermine it, even though Huck is not a believer, because he was "brung up wicked" - count the contradictions - is a very important one, not just in this book but in literature generally. This book is better than the same author's 'Tom Sawyer'. The latter character appears towards the end of the book, and is drawn as a flashy, duplicitous chancer. He is no better than the fraudulent "king and the duke" who end by being tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.
At this remove I, and probably most Americans too, have no idea how accurate a depiction of rural 19th-century Missouri life, and even language, it is. But the casual brutality of idle men in a small Missouri riverside town, who set fire to a stray dog for fun, probably took until the 1980s to become shocking. It was certainly well into the 20th century before the N-word did so. I read the book this week on the iFlow app for ebooks, free, from the Gutenberg project, so this edition is not affected by any notions of a new paper edition without the N-word, which I think is nonsense. The idea is to call N-people "slaves" - but an important part of the story turns on whether Jim really is free, or a slave. Another important theme is Huck's changing understanding of what it means to be human, which develops through his relationship with Jim. Huck decides to help free Jim although the tenets of society are against it and he knows the penalty, but Tom only wants to have an adventure making it happen because he knows that Jim is already free.
'The Catcher In The Rye' owes a lot to this book in my view. That may be a commonplace of American literary thought. I wouldn't know. Read it if you never have. Read it again if you have. And remember that lynchings happen in the dark, and are carried out by men in masks.