being henry david coverAuthor: Cal Armistead

Number of Pages: 320

Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen

Release Date: January 1, 2013

“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.” –

I originally decided to read this book after discovering that it largely revolved around Henry David Thoreau and his writing. I think it’s really interesting to read stories that incorporate famous authors or works in them. This past summer I read Jenny Hubbard’s novel Paper Covers Rock, which includes a lot about Moby Dick by Herman Melville. John Green’s novel Paper Towns also plays with this idea since it references Walt Whitman’s poetry several times. When I realized that this book might be similar to those that I had previously read, I immediately snatched it right up and began reading.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I was very wrong.

To start, the writing style itself was, to put it politely, in need of much improvement. It was extremely choppy with short sentences and random outbursts of thought, which did not help its fluidity whatsoever. Reading it in my head was awkward enough- I can’t imagine what it would be like if someone tried to read it out loud. They would be starting and stopping randomly, like some sort of robot, and the audience would no doubt be very confused. From the very first page I experienced a saddening feeling of regret, because I had a strong suspicion that my excited expectations would not be met.

Almost everything about this book was lacking in some way. The characters felt flat, especially Hank, the main one. The fact that he could not remember anything about his life made it a thousand times worse, because there was no foundation of personality to fall back on.The romantic relationship between Hank and Hailey also really bothered me because it seemed very shallow and forced. How was she not suspicious about this random guy who suddenly popped into town out of nowhere? And don’t even get me started on the Battle of the Bands! It was so cheesy and out of place within the context of the rest of the story. The plot was quite random, and Hank’s uncovered “history” was really just a mesh of a bunch of different memories. Also, the ending really disappointed me because it was abrupt and didn’t resolve much.

I always try to find at least a few positive aspects of the books I read, because it really pains me as a reader to only say negative things about a writer’s work. I’m sure that Armistead worked extremely hard to write this novel, and I at least owe it to her to recognize the good elements of Being Henry David. The one major positive component of this book was the incorporation of writing by Henry David Thoreau. It was interesting to read about and provided really the only thread of continuity throughout the entire story.

Overall, I did not enjoy this novel nearly as much as I had originally hoped I would. I understand that this is Cal Armistead’s debut novel, and that she therefore is not as experienced as, say, John Green. However, I do not think that fact should be used to justify the rather poor quality of the book. (Take John Green’s first novel, Looking for Alaska, for example. It’s one of my favorite books of all time!) I try to start every book I read with an open mind, or at least some positive thoughts, but this book just didn’t do it for me. It’s not that I hated it with every fiber of my being, it’s just that it wasn’t enjoyable to read.

My Rating: :0) :0) 2 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: No, unless they were a big fan of Henry David Thoreau. Some enjoyment could most likely be found from reading all of the quotes included in this book, if that was the case. Otherwise, I would not put this on a list of books for someone else to read. With that being said, do not let this review stop you from reading Being Henry David if you really want to! It was not my cup of tea, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you would not enjoy it.

Have you read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? How do you feel about writing negative reviews of books? Let me know in the comments section below!



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