Being Henry David

By Cal Armistead

Book CoverI ran across BuzzFeed’s list of The 21 Best YA Books of 2013, and had only read two (both courtesy of Kinsey). So, I read through all of the descriptions and a bunch of them held no interest for me (there is nothing for me in a story about an outcast teenage girl who finds herself through DJ-ing), but several promptly got added to my to-read list. Being Henry David was the only one immediately available at my library, so it has come first.

The premise is extremely basic, which I like: a teenaged boy wakes up in New York City’s Penn Station with no knowledge of who he is or how he got there or anything about his past. His only possession is a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and for lack of any better clues, he decides to go to Walden Pond and see if anything there can bring back his memories. Since he doesn’t know his real name, he gives his name as Henry David whenever asked. “Hank” is very engaging, and the various characters he meets are equally interesting.

The mystery is quite enthralling and kept me guessing for the majority of the book: Is he a government super-soldier a la Bourne? Is he running away from the massacre of his family a la Dark Places? Could he possibly be Thoreau himself brought forward in time?! The ending wasn’t quite as interesting as some of my admittedly farfetched imaginings, but was still quite satisfying. It occasionally got a little too teenage-angst for me, but I have a lower-than-average tolerance for that, so that criticism is more due to that I am not really the intended audience for this type of book than any sort of flaw in the story. I was overall quite pleased.

I additionally enjoyed the occasional discussions about Thoreau and Walden Pond because I read Walden in high school and did not relate to it at all (I am really very much not an outdoorsy person). So, I liked reading about how other people, even fictional characters, took inspiration from it. (I had also initially thought that that I was getting a somewhat unusual, for me, story about a male character by a male author, since I primarily read female characters and authors, but then I double-checked and author Cal Armistead is a woman, so not too off the beaten path – haha, Walden!)

Alternate Book CoverCan I also indulge in a quick graphic design exercise? I thought the cover to the book sucked – it was generic, discordant, and missed several different opportunities. I mulled over this throughout the several days of reading it, and so threw together a quick fan-art cover instead, courtesy of the great M.C. Escher.

The other books I’m waiting on from the list are Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea (#9), Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (#15), and Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys (#21), so hopefully those reviews will be coming up, too, though I’m interspersing my YA reading with graphic novels, so those will be sprinkled throughout, as well.


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