I stumbled across Being Henry David on book lover’s blog (Peter Likes Books, who also has a fun Book Tube channel) and the concept sounded intriguing, especially since I’ve always enjoyed reading Thoreau. I picked it up and loved it! Here’s the 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 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.
Who am I?
The story begins when a teenage boy finds himself in Penn Station in New York with no recollection of who he is and a nasty bump on his head. His only possession is a beat-up paperback copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Shortly thereafter, he comes into contact with two homeless kids, and when they ask his name he tells them that it’s Henry David, which they shorten to Hank. At this point, he wasn’t comfortable telling anyone about his amnesia. Of course, we wonder right from the beginning: What could have happened to him to have caused his injuries and amnesia?
I liked the fact that the story is told from the first person point of view, so we get constantly know what’s going on in our hero’s head; we feel his stress, his fear and his confusion as the realization dawns on him that the only thing he remembers is now.
Off to Walden Pond
After a dangerous encounter with a drug dealer, Hank is on the run. We follow him to Concord, Massachusetts where he heads almost immediately to Walden Pond, embarking upon on a literal search for his identity. One of Hanks’ biggest fears through all of this is discovering that could be a monster – a terrible person who’s done horrible things to others. Because of this, he attempts to keep the new people in his new life at arm’s length, not daring to get too close to anyone.
This is a lot more difficult than it seems as the new people slowly become integrated into his life and his heart.
The Mystery Slowly Unravels
The entire plot of Being Henry David revolves around the mystery of Hank finding out who is really is. Bit by bit, the pieces begin to return, as snapshots of information flash in his mind. Through all of this, I found it fascinating how our hero reconciles his new life and the person he’s become (Hank) with the person he was.
I also love how the author adeptly intertwines the stressful and violent life stories of the two street kids into Hank’s new, somewhat privileged life in Concord, and how they become an integral part of the story in Hank’s search for self.
Bad Decisions Were Made
But it’s not all smooth sailing for Hank, especially when some especially painful memories begin to resurface. This leads Hank to make some extremely rash decisions that are not particularly in his best interest.
It is at this point where his old world and new world collide.
I thought that the author did an excellent job of capturing the voice of this troubled, scared teenage boy who slowly recalls the events leading up to his memory loss. Right from the first page, the story grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go until the end. I felt that the pacing was perfect and the story heartfelt; so much that I found myself tearing up on more than a few occasions (but in a good way!). The story finishes on a positive note with a resolved and satisfying ending.
Being Henry David is a captivating coming-of-age adventure story with a brave, intelligent and at time reckless main character. The secondary characters were also well-developed, and you couldn’t help but love them by the end of the book. In this way, all the characters were believable for me as well as engaging.
Even if you’re not interested in Thoreau, there’s a lot in this story to enjoy — and you just may feel a desire to read some of his work by the end of this novel. After I turned the last page, I couldn’t help to wander over to my bookshelves and search for my old copy of Walden.
From what I understand, this is a debut novel for this author, and I can’t wait to see what she come up with next. Recommended for teens and adults!
You can check out Being Henry David HERE
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