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Book Review

Publisher's Note:

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 Armis…

Being Henry David

by Cal Armistead

Overall Book Review:

“Hank” is not sure of much, except the nagging sensation he is running–uncertain from who or what, but one thing is clear, with no memory of his past to draw upon to help guide his future, surviving in the present just became his main priority.

Cal Armistead’s young adult novel debut, Being Henry David draws heavily upon Henry David Thoreau’s classic Walden to create a modern telling of a young man’s desire to find himself. No, seriously he needs to find himself, not for some moral high ground grandeur, but because he has no idea who he is. Blank. Zilch. Nadda. Turns out using amnesia as a catalyst isn’t just an interesting plot line for daytime soap operas, but young adult mysteries as well. Riddled with an assortment of clues and flashbacks throughout the book, readers get a chance to journey with the protagonist step by step as he pieces together who he is and why he feels the need to conceal himself. Intent on finding answers “Hank” uses the only thing he has in his possession, a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau to help direct him–“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” (Walden, Henry Thoreau)

I applaud Cal Armistead for integrating a classic such as Walden into her story and am thrilled that young readers will have the chance (if they haven’t already) to become a fan of Thoreau. By incorporating some troublesome situations into the book, Armistead allows readers a glance at the distressing nature of missing and exploited teens, homelessness, and strangers–some cruel, some kind. With an assortment of secondary characters and various settings to help move the book along, there is little to no lags. There are parts of the book which are poignant, such as Armistead comparing a memory to a beast, but those lovely allegories may be overshadowed by the protagonist’s need to comment on a smoking hot girl (he may have amnesia, but he’s not blind.) The characters were well-developed; however, if you desire closure for every character you may be disappointed. Those who enjoy an author who gives you enough tid-bits here and there to draw your own conclusions will be satisfied with the story that is Being Henry David.

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Albert Whitman & Co.

Content Analysis:

Profanity/Language:  28 religious exclamations; 43 mild obscenities; 2 religious profanities; 2 derogatory names; 24 scatological words; 14 anatomical terms; 4 f-word derivatives.

Violence/Gore:  Under-age character briefly mentions one parent being physically abusive; extended scene (about 2 pages) underage characters engage in physical violence with an adult, stabbing and blood mentioned, somewhat graphic; injures and blood incurred during physical violence mentioned; underage character is held at gun point and threatened by an adult; brief scene in which character describes infected wound; extended scene (about 1 page) underage character reports her and her sibling were being physically abused; brief scene teen characters engage in physical violence with one another, character threatens another character’s life while holding a knife; extended scene (about 1 paragraph) character has a flashback to a car accident he was involved in, blood and broken bones mentioned; brief scene character recalls being in a car accident, blood and missing limb mentioned; brief scene character recalls being attacked in a mugging; extended scene (about 2 pages) character contemplates suicide.

Sex/Nudity:  A few brief scenes in which teen characters kiss and hold hands; brief scene of non-sexual reference to nudity.

Mature Subject Matter:

Run-away teens, homelessness, exploitation and physical/mental abuse of children, underage drinking and drug use.

Alcohol / Drug Use:

Brief scene where underage characters smoke; underage characters sell drugs, mention of drug use; mention of a party with underage drinking; underage character admits to driving while under the influence; general mention of friends (underage) drinking; mention of parent drinking excessively; mention of underage character being a “junkie in training”; underage character is addicted to drugs; mention of underage character going through drug withdrawals; mention of underage character overdosing (does not result in death); terms such as “junkie” and “wasted” are used a few times throughout the book.

Overall Book Rating

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About the Reviewer

I appreciate books of all genres, but my main squeeze is fiction. Depending on my mood it could be romance or suspense; lately I’ve been courting fantasy. When I don’t have my nose in a book, I am locating tasty paleo recipes, writing in-coherent poetry, and crafting with paper.