Being Henry David
Title: Being Henry David
Author: Cal Armistead
Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
Release date: 3/1/2013
Length: 270 pages
Genre: YA coming-of-age
Source: Review copy from Netgalley
“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
– Henry David Thoreau, from Walden
The first thing Hank remembers is waking up in New York’s Penn Station. He doesn’t know how he got there, why he’s there, or where he’s going. He doesn’t even know his name, so he names himself “Hank,” short for Henry David, after Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau’s Walden is his only possession and the only clue to his past. Now Henry David is on a hunt to find out who he was, but he’ll also find clues to who he is and what he wants along the way.
This is a strange little novel, hard to categorize and hard to rate. The cast of characters is pretty cool: you’ve got some janitors, a way cool librarian, and all of the kids Henry David meets along the way. There’s also the mystery factor — what keeps the story moving are the questions looming over Henry David. Enough is revealed along the way to satisfy readers, and the answers are not cliche. In fact, I was surprised throughout this story. After reading lots of YA, I can see a lot of plots coming. That was NOT the case with ole’ Henry David’s story. So…kudos to Cal Armistead.
However, this novel left me wanting more. Not like a hundred pages more, but just a smidge more. More from the ending, more from some of the characters, more depth. Don’t get me wrong — it’s good. And I understand why Armistead ended it the way she did. And maybe the wanting of more is a deliberate choice, to parallel how we want more out of life or something. Overall, I felt it was good but not great.
Oh, and I loooooooooved that The Beatle’s “Blackbird” played such a big role in the story. Not only is it perfect for Henry David’s journey, but it’s also just a good song. I totally didn’t mind having it stuck in my head (I posted the video at the end of this review in case you don’t know the song).
FINAL GRADE: B- I couldn’t decide between a C or a B, but I decide the story is definitely good enough to deserve a B, with a few points subtracted for the lack of depth in certain places.
Assigned Reading: Assigned to lovers of Walden, all high school English teachers, and fans of YA contemporary/coming of age novels. Also great for fans of the great outdoors (the Appalachian Trail, in particular) and rock bands.
Library recommendation: Put it in your high school library, skip the middle school library. Consider adding it to the curriculum paired with Walden to make the text relevant to modern life. There’s definitely enough in the book to use in an English class.