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Being Henry David

Review

Being Henry David

He wakes up in Penn Station with no idea how he got there, where he’s going next or who he is. All he knows is that some bum is trying to eat the only thing that might lead him to his identity --- a worn-out copy of WALDEN by Henry David Thoreau. WALDEN, though, doesn’t tell him anything, and if it weren’t for some other kids living on the street, Jack and Nessa, he would be out on his own, wondering what to do. Jack and Nessa decide to call him Henry David, Hank for short, after Thoreau. Despite Jack and Nessa’s attempts to help Hank figure out who he is, it’s all a blank.

"BEING HENRY DAVID is a compelling story about a teenage boy grappling with his identity in the wake of a disaster. Mixed in are memorable quotes from Thoreau’s WALDEN that add depth to the struggles Hank experiences and ultimately provide some hope."

Living on the streets, though, doesn’t help Hank remember anything. Soon Hank becomes embroiled in Jack and Nessa’s problems, and the only way to escape a crime boss who wants to bring Hank into the fold is to run away. Again. With WALDEN serving as a guide, Hank decides to head to the real Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts to find some answers.

Only Hank doesn’t find any. Instead, Hank manages to befriend a local librarian, Thomas, who takes Hank under his wing. Thomas decides that Hank is the reincarnated Henry David Thoreau since Hank has the innate ability of reciting full passages of WALDEN from memory. Hank also meets a local high school girl, Hailey, and it is through her that more of his past comes creeping in. For example, Hank learns he’s an excellent guitar player and that running is almost like riding a bike. Despite these newfound revelations, Hank doesn’t remember anything else --- or doesn’t want to.

Since Hank remembers nothing of his past, he decides to embrace the present. He agrees to play guitar in Hailey’s band for the high school’s upcoming Battle of the Bands competition and hopefully get closer to Hailey in the process. Hank also reluctantly agrees to Thomas’s suggestion of looking through missing children reports to see if he can find himself and trigger some memories of his past. After Hank finds his description and picture in one of the reports, Hanks starts to remember everything. He also remembers why he buried his memories as deep as they could go. Now that he knows who he is and why he ran away, Hank isn’t sure he has the courage to face his past, the present or the future.

BEING HENRY DAVID is a compelling story about a teenage boy grappling with his identity in the wake of a disaster. Mixed in are memorable quotes from Thoreau’s WALDEN that add depth to the struggles Hank experiences and ultimately provide some hope. “I went into the wood because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” Hank must figure out how to suck the marrow out of his shattered and broken life, and it is through his story that you may learn to do the same.

Reviewed by Benjamin Boche on March 25, 2013

Being Henry David
by Cal Armistead

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction, Social Issues, Young Adult 13+
  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
  • ISBN-10: 080750615X
  • ISBN-13: 9780807506158