Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Being Henry David by Cal Armistead (ARC)

Being Henry David by Cal Armistead
Albert Whitman & Company, 308 pages
Expected US Release Date: March 1, 2013
Format: print ARC / e-Galley
Source: DAC ARC Tours & author (thank you!)/NetGalley (thank you!)*
Challenges: Debut Author Challenge

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.
------------Goodreads summary

Notable Quote
So even if your life is crap, you'll hold on to it just because it's familiar? I shake my head, but in truth, I get it.
In high school, I loved Henry David Thoreau. Not for Walden, though I didn't mind that book (I couldn't imagine living in the woods by yourself at the time - I was down for the peace and quiet, but woods? I can't even kill ants without freaking out.); no, I loved Henry because of this quote:

"Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!!"

The entirety of that quote is fabulous, but I remember sticking with that section because I so desperately wished my complicated, complex life could just be simple. (I was a dramatic teenager.)

So when I saw this book? I knew I had to read it. Walden-esque YA? Hell yeah. I'm in. And then when I read the synopsis, I was so intrigued! Who's Hank, and what did he do that he's running from and repressing the memories?

On the whole, this book lived up to what I'd put it to. There were a few things I didn't quite like, but generally, it was a fantastic, easy read with a great story to it.

The word I gave this book is satisfying, because it really is in both a good and bad way. There's a reason for everything in this book, and it's very satisfying how it works out and how it all comes together.  There's nothing forgotten, nothing left out, and it all makes sense. But at the same time, it's also satisfying because nothing is really unexpected, either. What I thought came true; nothing more and nothing less. Even though I enjoyed the read, I'm mostly ambivalent towards the book.

Something that surprised me was how sad the book is! I know going into it, obviously - Hank has done something so terrible he's repressed the memory and is now lost. But as you go on and get deeper into the story, everything you learn and the people you meet make you sad as well. Everyone's got a tragedy, and even though good does happen eventually, that feeling of heaviness stayed with me the entire time. Oddly, being sad kind of fit the mood for the entire book; but it was still a little strange for it to stick around the entire time.

What I did love? The history and story of Thoreau and other storytellers of his time! Especially Louisa May Alcott, since Little Women is the book that started me on my reading journey at the tender age of 4. (I was quite indignant when Hank couldn't quite remember what she wrote!) It's a lot of fun to get to travel with Hank as he lives a little bit of Thoreau and follows his path. The characters it brought about were also fantastically fun, and I loved getting to see what Thoreau meant to others.

Being Henry David can be simplified (see what I did there?) into three words: Boy Remembers Truth. And even though I did have my problems with it, I still want everyone to read it and know the truth, too.

3.5 Stars / 5

*I received a e-Galley from NetGalley, then found out I was selected to be on the DAC ARC Tour. When I left the book at home, I took my iPad and read off the e-galley; so my review is based on both!


  1. Alexa S.March 1, 2013 at 7:56 AM

    This does sound like it would make for a pretty interesting read! I do like books that take inspiration from other books/authors, so there is that :)

  2. Estelle @ Rather Be ReadingMarch 2, 2013 at 5:56 PM

    I have a review coming up of this book this week. I'm suddenly a huge fan of this author, and it's not because I agreed with all of her plot choices. It was an engaging story, although you are right -- so sad. Really sad, and it just got sadder. Sigh. I like most that this book is so different from every other in YA. (Which is why I fear it will get little to no attention so let us RAISE OUR VOICES FOR UNIQUE BOOKS LIKE THIS ONE.) Rant over.

  3. fakestephMarch 4, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    I've never read anything by Thoreau... maybe I should. I've been putting a lot of thought into becoming a recluse.


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