Book Review: Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

Title: Being Henry David

Author: Cal Armistead

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Shelf: Read-in-2013, Young-Adult, Contemporary, 4.5-out-of-5, Released-in-2013, Debut Author, DAC Challenge, Kindle-eBook, Netgalley-Read

Publication Date: 1 March 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company

Synopsis: “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.” (Taken from Goodreads)

– – – –

Being Henry David is the first debut of 2013 I’ve picked up this year, and what a great start to the year! I’m so glad I picked this to start off the year because it was just such a moving and wonderfully written story. It follows a seventeen-year-old boy who wakes up at Penn Station in New York with retrograde amnesia. Armed with only a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau and a little bit of cash, he makes his way to Concord, Massachusetts, where Thoreau lived for two years and wrote Walden. As the book is his only clue of his past prior to waking up, he believes it’s the obvious place to go to.

Along the way, ‘Hank’ meets some important people that help him realise that the only way he can move on and remember his past is to face it head-on. Armistead presents us with snippets of Hanks’ past throughout the story – enough to keep it mysterious and intriguing without overwhelming the reader. Hank is a character that digs a spot in our heart and refuses to move. You become invested in him – in his past, present and future. Armistead has created a character so touching that you just can’t help but root for him.

I found the little snippets of Walden being thrown in fit perfectly with the voice and pace of the overall story. It’s a quick introduction to one of America’s great thinkers, and helps Hank come to terms with who he is. It really becomes his lifeline as his journey forward and backward is aided by this book. The people he meet in Concord is a result of this book being a clue for him to be there in the first place. His rediscovery of his past is a result of Walden. I think Armistead did a wonderful job incorporating these two stories about the intricacies of survival and life together.

What I really wanted to see more of was the development of the side characters. I wish we got to see more of Jack and Ness, even though I realise they’re side characters. And I really wished there was a scene where we saw Hank reunited with Rosie – but irregardless, the ending moved me to tears.

Being Henry David was such an emotional ride, but I loved every minute of it. If there’s one contemporary young adult fiction you’re going to read this year, Cal Armistead’s book is the one you need to invest in.

I think the song ‘Home’ by Phillip Phillips fits wonderfully with Being Henry David. The lyrics, the filmclip and even the singer just reminds me of this story! What do you think?

THANKS TO: Albert Whitman & Company for providing an electronic ARC to review honestly.


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