Being Henry Davidby Cal Armistead
Seventeen-year-old “Hank” has found himself at Penn Station in New York City with no memory of anythingwho 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 Davidor “Hank”and takes first to the streets, and then to the only destination he can think ofWalden 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.
"This compelling, suspenseful debut, a tough-love riff on guilt, forgiveness and redemption, asks hard questions to which there are no easy answers." Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2013
"Introspective high schoolers will appreciate this engimatic coming-of-age story." School Library Journal, March 2013
"Think James Dashner's Maze Runner series meets High School Musical: an engaging and unique book." Booklist, March 1, 2013
". . .Hank's personal tragedies are touching, as are his interactions with everyone from street kids Jack and Nessa to the more sedate citizens of Concord. His quests for answers and redemption should easily engage readers." Publishers Weekly, January 28, 2013
"Cal Armistead's story of Hank is not only an English teacher's dream. . .it's also a clever look at identity and who we are without our baggage." The Boston Globe, March 30, 2013
"Even those with little interest in Thoreau will find this a solid psychological mystery about a teen who's made a mistake that he can't keep running from." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April 1, 2013
Read an Excerpt
Being Henry David
By Cal Armistead
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2013 Cal Armistead
All rights reserved.
The last thing I remember is now.
Now, coming at me with heart-pounding fists. My eyes shoot open, and there is too much. Of everything. Blurred figures, moving. White lights. Muffled waves of sound. Voices. Music. Chaos.
"You gonna eat that?"
A noise at my ear. I turn. Smear of a face, too close. Its mouth moves, can't make sense of the words. Close my eyes, rub hard. Sore and gritty. I open them. Blink and blink. Senses snap into focus.
Everything in this place is washed of color. Tile on the floor is gray and white. Pumped-in classical music, way too loud. Crazy violins. Nothing makes sense.
"You gonna eat that?"
A fat man stares into my face. Long tangled hair, streaked gray, bushy beard. Eyes all watery and bloodshot. I sit on the floor leaning against a wall, the man sits next to me, gray football jersey and dirty blue sweatpants. Stinking of unwashed body and stale tobacco, with crusty bits of food in his beard.
A loudspeaker crackle jolts me and a bored woman's voice says, "Final call, nonstop service, track twelve, all aboard." Over the shaggy man's head, a huge sign hangs from the ceiling, black with white letters and numbers that flip and change next to names: Trenton; Washington DC; Niagara Falls; Boston.
Cities. They are cities. I understand that much at least. People are here to go to the cities on the sign. I don't have a backpack or suitcase, but I figure I'm a traveler too. Why else would I be here?
All I understand is that I was sleeping, and now I am awake. So why don't I remember anything that came before the sleeping?
The man speaks again, and I blink hard. Am I going to eat what? I look around, notice my own muddy gray sneakers on big feet. Faded blue jeans, ripped at the knee, black T-shirt, and a gray hooded sweatshirt. I don't remember putting on these clothes or walking in mud.
I reach up to scratch my head and feel a sharp, stinging pain. When I pull my hand away, there's blood on my fingertips. I touch again, more gently this time. Just under my hairline, there's a huge lump with a crusty scab that I just scratched off. Luckily it's not bleeding much, so I wipe the blood on my jeans like it doesn't matter. But my eyes prickle and burn. All I want is to get out of this place and go home.
Searching my brain for what home means, I find a white blank space. Where, what, is home?
I fumble in my pockets for an ID. There's a crumpled ten dollar bill in a front pocket, nothing else. I think I'm old enough to have a driver's license and for a second, I see myself behind the wheel of a car. But then that shred of memory shuts down on me, hard, like a slammed door echoing down a long hallway.
"Hey! You gonna eat that?" The guy sounds angry now, furry black eyebrows crunched together.
I search around me again on the tile floor. If I find anything to eat, I'll gladly give it to this annoying dude, make him go away so I can think. But the only thing I find is a green paperback book, under my right leg. I lift up the book, in case he thinks I'm hiding food under it. Nothing.
I shrug, book still in my hand. "No food." My voice is a low, unfamiliar croak.
His bloodshot eyes never blink and never leave the book. Testing him, I lift it a few inches, shift it to the left, the right, set it back on the floor next to me. His zombie gaze drifts left, right, and down, following the book.
What the hell? I squint down to scan the title, but the next thing I know, a huge paw with grimy fingernails snatches the book away. With surprising speed for a guy his size, the man hauls himself to his feet and lumbers away from me, book pressed against his beard, into a sea of people who apparently got off a train all at once.
"Hey!" I shout after him. For one confused moment, I'm too stunned to move. Then I scramble to my feet and put these long legs to work, chasing after what is my only possession in this world as far as I know.
The big guy is a pro at dodging through people and briefcases and duffel bags and wheeled suitcases. Me, not so much. I run smack into a tall guy in a black raincoat and he drops a leather notebook on the floor.
"Dammit, kid," he shouts at me. Papers fly all over. He looks like he wants to punch me. I help him pick up the papers, apologizing constantly, pushing them into his hands while he murmurs, "yeah, whatever, just get away from me." I swing around to search for the guy who stole my book and he's gone.
I push through the crowd—sorry, excuse me, sorry—and finally spot him by the men's room. He's on the floor, leaning against the gray wall with his thick, stubby legs stretched out in front of him, hunkered down over the book—my book—turning pages and concentrating, like he's looking for something. Then he grabs the corner of one of the pages from the middle of the book and rips it out.
Before I can react, he takes the torn-out page, crumples it into a ball, stuffs the whole thing into his mouth, and starts chewing. With a black smudged pinky extended, he tears out another one. I stare in disbelief as he swallows that page, and chomps down on another.
"Give me the book." My voice is a pretty impressive growl, but all he does is glare, sheltering the book with his wide body as he rips out another random page and stuffs it into his mouth.
Somebody else might have given up, just walked away and bought himself another damn book. But somebody else didn't just appear out of nowhere in a train station with no ID or luggage. No memory, not even a name. Just a book. A book that might carry a clue, like maybe the name of its owner (me) scrawled inside the front cover. Or a receipt from a hometown grocery store stuffed between its pages. Or a ticket home. I have to know, have to get that book back.
So I reach right under the big dude's reeking armpit, and grab the book. He holds it tight with his pudgy fingers and makes a puffing noise, fighting me off. He's strong and stubborn, I'll give him that. We wrestle, both of us grunting and pulling. His tobacco breath is a toxic cloud and his armpits smell like onion soup gone bad, but I refuse to give up.
Then, out of nowhere, he lets out this strange bellow, like a walrus at the zoo. I can actually feel the sound vibrations travel through my hands, up both arms, and into my chest. He roars again and pulls at the book.
"Let go!" I shout and yank back.
"Okay, you two, break it up, hear? Step away, now."
An iron hand clamps around my upper arm, and I whirl around to see a couple of uniformed cops peering down at us. One of them, a redheaded guy with a baby face, has my arm. At the sight of the blue uniform, I have an instinctive urge to pull my arm away and bolt. But I force myself to freeze, as if avoiding any sudden movements will keep me safe.
"What's going on here?" asks the other cop, a dark-skinned guy, taller and thinner than his partner. His face looks young, but he has a thick gray mustache, so I figure he's at least in his forties.
When I glance at his badge and the navy blue POLICE CAP on his head, a strange terror grips my gut. I swallow hard and lick my dry lips before I can speak. "My book," I say, and I stand up, glad to pull away from Red the cop and the stench of the big man. "He stole my book, and he's ..." I gesture helplessly, and the three of us look down at him. "He's eating it."
The big man, still chewing on paper and drooling into his beard, glances at each of us and grins.
"Frankie, did you take this boy's book?" The gray mustached cop asks patiently, like he's talking to a little kid.
Frankie shakes his massive head and swallows. "Mine."
Red puts his hands on his hips. "Sorry, kid," he says to me. "Frankie here has some sort of mental issue that makes him eat weird stuff. I've seen him eat cigarette butts and string before."
"He ate an entire bar of soap once," Mustache Cop adds, nodding. "I watched him."
We all stare at Frankie again like he's a science experiment, and he gives us this huge smile.
"Anyway, kid, though I tend to believe you, it's your word against Frankie's. He says it's his, you say it yours." The police radio on his shoulder crackles, and he ignores it.
Anger boils up inside my chest. They can't let this guy keep my book. They can't.
"But tell you what," says Red. "I have an idea. Frankie, hand over the book."
Frankie stuffs one more page into his mouth, then shrugs and gives him the book. That easy. The cop hides it behind his back.
"Okay. The first one of you to give me the correct title and author of this book is the rightful owner and shall be reunited with his property." He looks each of us in the eye to prolong the suspense, and then says: "Go."
My palms start sweating. I'd only gotten one quick peek at the title before Frankie swiped the book. If I'd been reading the book before I fell asleep, I remember nothing about it now. I'm embarrassed to feel tears of frustration sting the backs of my eyeballs. But then I see the green cover in my head, the picture of a lake. This is weird, but it's like I know this place. I can smell the water and hear the birds. And then I see the title in my head, as if the words were stamped on the inside of my eyelids.
"It's Walden," I say, all in a rush.
Red nods. "And the author? For extra credit?" He chuckles. The guy is getting a real charge out of himself.
"Aw, give the kid the break," Mustache Cop says.
"No, it's okay," I say because I see it again, that picture in my head. "Henry David Thoreau, right?"
"Yes, indeed. Henry David Thoreau," Mustache Cop says, nodding his head adamantly. Then he clears his throat and takes a dramatic stance. "'I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.'" Grinning, he nods at us, all proud of himself. "See there? See? That's from the book. I memorized that stuff way back in high school." He taps his forehead. "Like a steel trap."
"Whatever," I mumble, but neither of them seems to hear. This guy can remember a high school English assignment word-for-word and I don't even know my own name. I consider telling the cops that I'm lost and can't remember who I am. Maybe they can help me. But there's that thing in my chest like a brick wall that says this would be a terrible idea. Some fuzzy instinct tells me it's not safe to go to the police. Fuzzy instinct isn't much to go on, but it's all I have. I decide to trust it.
Red stares at his partner for a second. "Suck out the marrow? Is that what you said? Now that's just disgusting."
Mustache Cop just shakes his head and smiles. He has a nice smile, straight white teeth. "Seize the day, young man. Carpe diem. That's what Thoreau was talking about."
"Uh. Excuse me? Officers?" I say politely. They turn blank eyes at me, as though they've forgotten I'm still here. "Can I have my book?"
"What? Oh yeah, sure." Red hands me the book.
"Walden by Henry David Thoreau," Mustache Cop says again, poking a finger at the name on the cover. "Now that guy knew what he was talking about. If we all lived like him, the world would be a better place."
"Not if it means eating marrow and whatnot." His partner shakes his head and his chubby red cheeks wiggle. "That's just sick."
The two transit cops walk off arguing, and I relax, relieved to see them go.
I examine the cover of the book, try to wipe off Frankie'sgrimy fingerprints and a few smudges of dark chewing tobacco drool with the sleeve of my sweatshirt. Then I hold it shut with both hands, tight, like I'm protecting all those pages and words and punctuation; all mine.
I glare at Frankie, but he's not even looking in my direction. Instead, he's staring at the people who hustle by where he sits on the floor, bloodshot eyes scanning them for something edible, studying what they hold in their hands or have tucked under their arms.
His gaze locks onto a woman holding a pair of leather gloves, and then a little girl clutching a purple stuffed elephant.
"You gonna eat that?"
They rush past, looking alarmed.
I search for a chair so I can sit and flip through the book, but the only ones available are in a special area for people with train tickets. So I find a quiet corner and sit on the floor again, desperate to know the clues that Walden by Henry David Thoreau might hold. Whoever he is. And whoever I am.CHAPTER 2
Yeah, I looked through that damn book. I sat for a good twenty minutes and flipped through every single page. There was nothing. Not a train ticket, not a receipt, not a name. Nothing.
So. What now? Burying my face in my hands, I fight an urge to rock back and forth, crying like some lost little kid. Instead, I'm distracted by the feel of soft stubble on my chin. Not much of a beard, but apparently enough to shave. My fingers explore my cheeks, nose, eyelids, and ears like a blind person. I don't even know what I look like yet. Would I know me if I saw me? Got to find a mirror.
As soon as I step into the men's room, the strong smell of piss and disinfectant stings the inside of my nose, and some guy is puking in one of the stalls. Ignoring this, I freeze in front of the mirror. I blink, and the guy in the mirror blinks back. Stuffing Walden into the back waistband of my jeans to get it out of the way, I lean in to stare at the stranger. Damp hair, black and straight. Messy. I rake my fingers through it. Eyes light, maybe gray. He's tall and lanky, but his shoulders—my shoulders—are wide and I look strong. That's something anyway.
"Hey, ugly," comes a voice. There's a skinny kid leaning against the wall by the urinals, one boot up against the concrete, dirty blond hair falling into his eyes. His clothes look like they could use a washing. Or better yet, a Dumpster.
"Hey, asswipe," I say back. Among the things I've just learned about the guy in the mirror are: One, I could easily take this loser. And two, I'm no rock star, but I'm definitely not ugly.
The kid's mouth twists to one side, and his eyes blaze. I just want to be left alone. But if he wants to start something, okay then. I'll fight him. My hands curl into fists as I wait for him to make the first move.
"Yeah? Wipe your own ugly ass," he hisses. He takes three steps toward me, eyes never leaving mine. We stare into each other's faces, neither giving any ground, not one centimeter, not one twitch of surrender. Then before I can react, he pushes me forward with hard palms, trying to slam me against the concrete wall. I barely waver.
"That was lame," I say.
He gets close, peers into my face, his mouth a tight line of aggression. I stare back, not flinching, not even blinking.
Then he smiles. He laughs and slaps me on the shoulder and I'm so tensed up, I almost react with a fist to his jaw, except that his attitude seems friendly. Weirdly friendly.
"I'm Jack," he says. "Don't ask for a last name, because I don't have one." He crosses his arms across his chest and smiles at me, and I realize that I've passed some kind of test. My fist relaxes, finger by finger, joint by joint.
The puking guy stumbles out of the stall to shuffle toward the sinks, and Jack and I give him plenty of room. His eyes are bloodshot, cheeks caved in like a decaying jack-o'lantern, his flannel shirt grimy. His glassy eyes drift toward me, and he gives me a slow smile. The few teeth he has left in his mouth are black nubs.
"Later, boys," he says. He lurches out the door.
Jack ignores him. "So who the hell are you?" he asks me.
Good question. Who the hell am I? I clear my throat, adjust my jeans to buy some time. And I feel the bulk of the paperback book stuffed into the waistband. A picture of the cover swims into my mind again. I see the lake, the trees. Then the title and the author's name.
"Henry," I blurt out. "Henry David."
Jack pauses, and for a second I think he's going to call me on it. I probably didn't say it with enough conviction. Henry. Henry David. Next time, I'll do better.
"Henry," he says doubtfully, trying it out. "You don't look like a Henry. I'll call you Hank." And just like that, I become Hank. "So, Hank, I think it's about time for a midnight snack. You got any money?"
I shrug. "A little."
"Good. You can buy us some food."
I narrow my eyes. This guy has some balls. "Why don't you buy us some food? Since it was your idea and all."
"Relax, Hank. Give me something, and I'll give you something. Like maybe a warm place to sleep tonight. Don't you think that's worth the price of a hamburger, for chrissake?"
The ten dollars in my pocket isn't a lot of cash, but it's enough to buy Jack and me sodas and two cheeseburgers each at a fast food place in the terminal. Judging by the way he stuffs the first burger into his mouth and lets the ketchup dribble down his chin, he's hungrier than I am or a slob. Or both.
"So what are you running away from, Hank?"
I pull a pickle out of my burger and pop it into my mouth. I can't remember food ever tasting so good. But then, I can't actually remember eating anything before this.
"What makes you think I'm running?"
Jack smirks and swipes at his chin with a paper napkin.
"You're hiding out at Penn Station. Any second, you look like you could either bust into tears or stab a guy in the neck. It's the look."
"The look." I echo.
"Yeah, the one you get when you're a runaway, especially at the beginning."
Excerpted from Being Henry David by Cal Armistead. Copyright © 2013 Cal Armistead. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Cal Armistead is a musician, singer, voice actress, and independent bookseller in Massachusetts. She lives in Concord with her husband. This is her first novel. www.calarmistead.com
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I was obsessed from beginning to end!
This is a great book that makes you think about how important family is no matter what.
Wow! I almost don't even know where to begin..I was hooked before I finished reading page one and couldn't put it down until I got to the end. I had about 15 pages or so left and I was getting so tired but, stubborn me, couldn't stop and sleep that close to the finish line! "Being Henry David" pulls you through a full range of emotions. There were some humorous moments that made me, literally, laugh out loud. There were also a couple of parts that completely pull at your heart and made me cry. Actual sniffling, blurry vision, tears. Not to mention all of the anxiety filled moments as Hank starts to unlock memories and the guilt he struggles with from it. The absolute war he has going on within himself. Things he goes through when he starts out in the streets. There's just so much emotion going on and you can't help but just...feel when reading this book. Being able to bring all that out in me has placed this book in my top 10 favorite reads. Ever. I'd even go so far as saying it's going into my top 5. It's passion inspiring books like this that make me glad I'm a reader. I was hopeful that it would be good when I read the synopsis in NetGalley and put in a request and I'd like to thank the Teen department at Albert Whitman & Company for giving me the opportunity to read such an amazing book!
Imagine this.... You wake up not knowing where you are, who you are and nothing what so ever of your past. You family and friends, forgotten. Your age, name, and hometown, forgotten. Any shred of a memory before this exact moment....GONE. A Seventeen-year-old boy finds himself doing just that. He wakes up in a NY train station with only these clues: a nasty bump on the head, a 10 bill in his pocket and a tattered old copy of Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. Having no memory of who is truly is he reinvents himself, as HANK or Henry David Thoreau. With nothing to lose and more so everything to gain. He searches for clues to his past and along with way finds more than he bargained for. New friends, a new life, and falling in love. Here is where his journey begins. A quest if you may, one to not only find out who he is but a spiritual self-discovery for a boy who has everything and nothing to lose. This coming of age novel takes the reader on a journey of their own. One to uncover who "HANK" really is but more so to find out what really happen in his past that lead him to where he is now. The one and most imported except I loved about this book was that through the authors writing I was able to feel like I was there alongside Hank. Taking the roads to self-discovery he did, feeling his pain and frustration and just being there along for the ride in the search for "himself". Cal Armistead gives the reader such a deep and profound look into Hank life. Starting from where he began, knowing nothing at all about himself to where he ended up, closing in on the mystery. From page one I was hooked. I too needed to know who Hank truly was. Uncovering the clues, and solving the mystery alongside with the main character, I feel is what really makes "Being Henry David" to be so incredibly special. This unique, and thought provoking tale is the perfect coming to age story. Being Henry David" has everything: Fresh and realistic characters, a fast paced drama, and a mystery that will leave you guessing! This book is one NOT to miss! :)
The Low Down: Kid comes to in Penn Station in New York City with only the clothes on his back, ten dollars in his pocket and a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. He remembers nothing about how he got there, his name or anything about his life prior to the moment he wakes up. After meeting a brother and sister pair of runaways, he is introduced to a local baddie/drug distributor. He escapes and decides that he needs to travel to Concord, Massachusetts, the site of Walden, since the only clue he has about who he is or where he came from is the book. I have always enjoyed a good mystery, and there definitely is one here. In addition, the new life that “Hank” is forging over the course of the book makes you wonder - can whatever happened to him, whatever it was that caused the amnesia, be swept away completely by the amnesia? Will he be happy to find out who he is/was, or was it too traumatic? WHAT HAPPENED?? The slow revelation of his past life, the snapshots and snatches of information are intriguing. Plus, he’s invented a new person, and, as this new person, he meets people that he starts to care about. Can his two worlds come together or will they collide unpleasantly? Setting the story in Concord and explaining who Thoreau is makes this book more than just a teen amnesia novel. It adds a layer of complexity through literature, old-fashioned values and a setting that you won’t soon forget (!). Being Henry David by Cal Armistead was published March 1, 2013 by Albert Whitman Teen. Ink and Page picked this book up from the library, so no one had a choice about whether it was reviewed. Rating: 4 Genre: Young Adult Fiction Contemporary Ages: 12 and up You Might Want to Know: MIld profanity, violence
A teenage boy wakes up in the middle of Penn Station with no idea who he is or how he got there. Because he found Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden next to him when he woke, he thinks it must be an important clue to his identity. He tells Jack, a street-wise teen he meets at Penn Station, that his name is Henry David and Jack nicknames him Hank. When Jack leads them into a potentially dangerous situation, Hank decides to split and goes to the only place he can think of – Concord, Massachusetts, the setting of Walden. I don’t read a lot of books that feature male POVs and this book makes me wonder why; I had no problem getting into Hank’s head. He was such an engaging character: scared and brave, smart and reckless. He basically had no idea who he was, so he had to become this brand new person and it was interesting to watch that happen. The people he met along the way were great additions to the story, they were all unique and had their own personality traits. I especially liked the librarian who was there for Hank every time he needed help. The opening scene, in which Hank woke in Penn Station, was so exciting it just grabbed me. I could feel how panicked he was, how scared. After the brief stay in New York, most of the book took place in Concord, and the location descriptions were fabulous. I could totally picture everything in my mind while reading: the school, the lake, the forest, the library… It was all top-notch. Henry David Thoreau was woven throughout the book: quotes, books he wrote, his beliefs and ideals. I’m not very familiar with the author, but I enjoyed the bits about him and think he was probably a pretty interesting person. I enjoyed the mystery aspect – who was Hank and how did he end up unconscious in Penn Station? Little clues were revealed slowly throughout the story, so there was no big moment where everything was explained, and I liked that. The reason he ended up where he did was satisfying and believable. The ending was a bit drawn out for my liking, but in the end I enjoyed it. There was no cliffhanger or overly cheery happily ever after. It was realistic and heartfelt. The sum up: I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next.
I never thought that I would get the chance to review this book but when I got it on NetGalley, I did a little happy dance on my side of the screen. The whole plot of the story caught my attention right away and I knew that I had to read this book one way or another. Now that I have read this book, I am happy to say that I should just trust my instincts. This book was great and I adore it. The beautiful characters brought to life an incredible plot. I am so excited to finally get the chance to review a book I've been wanting to read for awhile. Being Henry David by Cal Armistead is similar to a different story I read awhile ago in the sense that the main character lost their memory but everything else is completely different. I think the fact that it reminded me of another story I loved is the reason I first picked it up. The story begins in Penn Station with a boy who can't seem to remember who he is and the only things he understands are common knowledge like he was in the US or was speaking English. But there was something blocking out his memory and everything about his life is just beyond his reach. As he searches for who he is, he finds himself drawn into the wrong side of New York City and his only solace is the book he found by his side when he awoke; Walden by Henry David Thoreau. A chance escape leads him to where the story took place and maybe to the key to unlocking his past. But life isn't that simple and that is why this boy is about to find out.
I’ve wanted to read Being Henry David since I first heard about the book, and was delighted when I scored and ARC. Starting a book I’ve been anticipating always makes me nervous. There’s nothing worse than a book dashing one’s hopes. I’m pleased to report that Being Henry David didn’t do this. I wouldn’t call this a fun read. It deals with several very serious and scary issues, but I found it a very enjoyable book. I was engrossed from the very first page, to the very last. By the end of the book I was so attached to “Hank” I hated closing the book. In a lot of ways he reminds me of the characters created by S.E. Hinton. There’s no getting around the fact that the author is a huge fan of Walden and used their knowledge Thoreu to helped move Hank forward. There are even some interesting interactions with “Thoreau” that I found delightful. The only issue I had with the book was that there are points when the prose felt just a bit choppy, but all in all its well written, fast paced, and features a wonderful cast of characters. If you like angst and serious minded books, I think you’ll adore Being Henry David.
A teen boy wakes up in Penn Station with absolutely no memory of who he is or how he came to be at the station. The only possible clue to his identity is a worn copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau lying next to him when he awakes. Not long after coming to, mystery boy meets two homeless youths, Jack and Nessa, who give him some company while he tries to get his bearings. Not knowing what other moniker to give himself, and inspired by the copy of Walden he continues to keep with him, our narrator at first decides to go by Henry David but then shortens it to "Hank". Unfortunately for Hank, his new association with Jack unexpectedly gets him involved in a soured drug deal. Jack, Nessa and Hank realize they all need to split up for their own safety and survival. Hank's choice is to travel to Concord, Massachusetts, the location of the Walden Pond that inspired Thoreau's most famous work. Hank starts to suspect his memories are frozen because of something horrible he might have done, so while he half hopes to have his memory return, he also toys with the idea of just starting all over in Concord with a new identity altogether. It wasn't too long ago that I read Thoreau's Walden, so I was curious to see how a sort of YA mystery / thriller might be written around a piece of naturalist classic literature. For a debut novel, I found this to be an impressive entrance for Cal Armistead (threw me to later find out the author is female, I initially just assumed Cal was short for Calvin or something). There are quite a few mystery-thriller type stories starting amnesia patients on the market these days, and while this one doesn't always offer up the most tense plot -- there was a part there in the middle that got a little slow for me -- it made for a fun time reading how Hank put the pieces of his history together, little by little. As the memories trickle in, the people Hank interacts with -- whether it be his street friends Jack & Nessa; the HS janitor in Concord, Sophie; high school student Hailey; or the Harley-riding research librarian, Michael -- each one in their roles plays an important part in unlocking Hank's mind. I especially liked the almost father-like bond Hank develops with Michael. My one big gripe with the story is that the way Hank interacts with Hailey sometimes struck me as sounding much more middle-grade or jr high rather than someone in their late teens, on the cusp of adulthood, as Hank is described as being. So while the tension level of the plot might be more of the ebb & flow variety rather than more steady, the novel's end was definitely satisfying for me and, I thought, stayed true to the spirit of Thoreau, at least in terms of his writings. I found myself once again wanting to get out in my local woods!
This book had me hooked from the moment I opened it. love. love. love. love.
My Thoughts: I was curious about this one although a little apprehensive as to whether I would like it or not. I have read a couple books in male point of view and if the voice isn’t just right, I may not stay interested. That was not he case with this one. I found it very enjoyable and easy to follow. Henry, or so he dubs himself, was very likeable. You can’t help but be drawn into his confused mind, attempting to fit pieces together. You follow this journey of his, desiring the to the truth of his past, wondering why he has Waden memorized, why he lost his memory. This mystery alone kept my interest piqued. When he arrives in Concord, he finds places to hide out as he tries to discover who he is and answer all the questions of his own mysterious mind. In his search for answers, he receives help from Thomas, a local tour guide for Thourou. He also meets Hailey, a sweet local girl with troubles of her own. She can tell something is wrong with Henry, but he’s not sure how to explain it to her. By the time he discovers what his past truly is, he really doesn’t know who to tell and if they’ll understand. Being Henry David was a mysterious adventure. I wanted so much to see what it was that he was running from, how he ended up in that train station of all places. Cal Armistead really did an amazing job tackling the male POV. The end was perfectly handled--we got answers to the important things, and everything else, only time will tell. My Rating: Exceptional
The book was an easy read. It keeps you interested as you follow along and the pieces to the puzzle were slowly developed.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It caught my attention right from the start. I am disappointed to see there are no more books by the same author!!
Really bad language, I couldn't even finish the book. What a waste of money!