Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

Being Henry David
by Cal Armistead
Published: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
Available: Amazon

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.

I have to admit, I was expecting something more along the lines of an adventure story when I started reading. Not that there wasn't adventure, because there was, but I suppose I thought Being Henry David  would be a bit fluffier. 

Being Henry David is a coming-of-age, adventure story written for boys. Even though it could appeal to girls, Armistead clearly didn't write a 'girly' boy (by that I mean another Edward or Jacob or any other male character in a book for girls). Armistead has created a character boys will understand. Hank thinks and acts like a typical guy. He's not obsessively in love with a girl, or waxing poetic at the sight of his love interest. That fact alone had me liking this book.

There is a nice mix of adventure and literary fiction. Even if you're not familiar with Henry David Thoreau there is enough information about his life and work scattered throughout the novel that it is easy to see why Hank has connected with this long dead author.

Being Henry David would be a great book for mid- to upper teens, particularly boys. There is some violence and drug use (or at least the reference to drug use), but nothing gratuitous.

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