Thursday, January 3, 2013

Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

The main character of the book wakes up at the train station in New York City with no memory of who he is or his life prior to that moment.  His only possession is a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau so he ends up being called Hank.  While being sheltered by two street teens Hank finds himself in trouble and on the run.  Sure that Walden must be some sort of clue to his past Hank travels to Concord, Massachusetts to visit Thoreau's home.  There he finds friendship and help from several people including a librarian, a custodian and a beautiful girl with her own secrets.  Slowly, Hank begins to catch glimpses of who he was before but the more memories he retrieves, the more he remembers about why he blocked out his life in the first place.  As a lover of Walden and other Thoreau writings I wish that Hank had ended up living more of his philosophies.  However, there are lots of references to his work and life throughout the novel and the librarian is definitely a Thoreau-esque role model.  For teens who have likely not been introduced to his work there is plenty to chew on.  But the inclusion of Thoreau things is really a small issue, probably only important to his fans.  The meat of the story is something that will capture teens' attention beginning with the gritty New York setting and the events that happen there, including the odd homeless man who eats anything he finds - both good hooks for selling the book.  Hank's memory loss coupled with the few things that come back to him - such as the fact that he's a great guitar player - keep the reader interested to find out what's going on.  His girlfriend in Concord has secrets of her own that are woven in which also builds suspense.  This is a good piece of realistic fiction with a bit more depth than some other YA titles.  My only complaint is that I got tired of Hank running away from help.  The librarian was clearly non-judgmental and tried to make a couple of deals with Hank which he kept breaking.  If he hadn't the book couldn't have included the importance of the mountain, but I was a bit exasperated with Hank by that point.