Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Being Henry David

Being Henry David
Being Henry David by Cal Armistead
March 1, 2013
Albert Whitman Teen (Publisher)
320 pages
Genre: Young Adult
Source: NetGalley for honest review 
Book Blurb:
Seventeen-year-old "Hank" has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anything --who he is, where he came from, why he's running away. His only possession is a worn copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. And so he becomes Henry David-or "Hank" and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think of--Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. Cal Armistead's remarkable debut novel is about a teen in search of himself. Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past. The only way Hank can discover his present is to face up to the realities of his grievous memories. He must come to terms with the tragedy of his past, to stop running, and to find his way home.
My Review:

The story we embark upon starts with "Hank" awaking at Penn Station with no memory of who he is and only the clothes he's wearing and a copy of Walden by his side. But he has this intuition that something is wrong and he's not ready to turn himself into the police as a missing person, which would obviously be the fastest way for him to figure out who he is. Instead he names himself Henry David, gets nicknamed as "Hank" by one of the interesting characters he meets, and starts this journey of discovery, meeting some good and bad characters along the way.

This journey also interweaves Thoreau's words of insight from Walden. Not being well-versed in all things Henry David Thoreau, I wasn't sure how well I would do with this book. I thought the way the author intermixed Walden was very creative and used in a very pertinent manner considering the circumstances that Hank faced, and really added a whole extra layer to the story that I really enjoyed. Despite never having read Walden myself, I never felt lost or disconnected from the story.

I also really enjoyed the "mystery" aspect of this story. I felt like I was right there with Hank trying to figure out who he was and why his memories were being blocked. I didn't expect this book to grip me the way it did, but I really wanted to know how things turned out for Hank and what really happened to him. I also loved how he had to grow in his character, beyond just finding out about himself, but who he wanted to be. He befriended others who helped him, and who he helped. The intermixing with secondary characters was well done, though I would have even liked more depth to them. I had a particular soft spot for Thomas.

Bottomline: This book went above my expectations and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed not only the writing style and the characters, but the storytelling itself. This is a wonderful journey of self-discovery, seeking the truth, finding forgiveness, and embracing the future, whatever it may hold. The ending was touching, heartfelt, and realistic. A great debut by Cal Armistead.


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  1. I really liked it, too! I have read Walden, but its been years, and this book was as fun way to revisit it! I also really liked Thomas! Great review!


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