The Sunday Review: BEING HENRY DAVID – Cal Armistead

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 about a teen in search of himself. As Hank begins to piece together recollections from his past he realizes that the only way he 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 find his way home.Goodreads


I don’t know if I ever would have picked up this book had it not been for a friend pointing it out to me. Even then, it wasn’t an immediate, “I must read that!” reaction. But I read the synopsis, I went away and thought about it, and eventually, I figured why not. 

Because I had absolutely zero expectations – the friend who told me about it hadn’t even read it yet to recommend it – I went into it ready to be surprised. And I was, pleasantly. 

I think what got me most about this book were the feelings I experienced as I imagined myself in Hank’s shoes. I think at some point we’ve all wondered what would happen to us if our lives as we know them were suddenly taken away from us. Where would we go? Who would we confide in? How would we survive? 

In Hank’s case the situation is even more dire, because he doesn’t even remember where “home” is – or who he is. Can you imagine that? Really try for a minute. Try to imagine waking up in a busy train station and it’s as if your life up to that point is gone. You have no name, no ID, no idea whether you’re wandering or running away from something, you don’t know if you can trust the police, and you only have ten bucks to your name. 

What would you do? Risk going to the authorities and hope for the best? Hide? Beg? It’s a scary thing to contemplate. And this is how Hank’s story begins. 

Over the next 300 pages we follow Hank as he tries to unravel his past, figure out what he left behind, and decide whether he wants to – or is capable of – returning to it.

Hank’s story is, quite literally, a journey of self-discovery. Along the way we meet an interesting and eclectic cast of characters – some of whom put themselves on the line to help Hank out, others whose intentions aren’t so pure. We also get to know Henry David Thoreau – whose book, Walden, is the only thing Hank has in his possession when he wakes up. Thoreau becomes a mentor, ghostly apparition and invisible friend to Hank; something to cling to as he struggles to find his own history.

 He’s not quite as cool as Tyler Durden, but who is?

Overall I think this was a well-written, thought-provoking book. I connected with the main character, and I cared about his plight. There were a few elements of the story I had trouble with – particularly the girl he takes up with who wasn’t very clearly developed. At times she seems selfish, then sympathetic, then annoyingly naive. I had a hard time with her – particularly since she seemed to have been written in solely to give the book relationship drama. It would have worked just as well – or even better – without her. So that bumped a point off my rating. 

But, despite a few hiccups along the way, I’d recommend this book, particularly for guys who are looking for a character they can connect with in a YA book. 


Book Title: Being Henry David
Author: Cal Armistead
Series: No
Edition: Paperback
Published By: Albert Whitman & Company
Released: March 1, 2014
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Suspense, Adventure
Pages: 304
Date Read: February 24-27, 2014
Rating: 7/10

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