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Being Henry David [Kindle Edition]

Cal Armistead
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Ask the Dark
"Ask the Dark"
Gripping and powerful, this masterful debut novel comes to vivid life through the unique voice of a hero as unlikely as he is unforgettable. Hardcover | Kindle

Book Description

Winner of the 2014 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People

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.

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 10 Up-A boy wakes up in Penn Station, remembering nothing. He guesses that he's about 17, he has a head injury, and he is carrying only 10 dollars. Near at hand is a copy of Walden, so for want of anything better he calls himself Henry David (Hank). He heads to Concord, Massachusetts, to find, he hopes, some clues at Walden Pond. As his memories slowly return, he remembers who he was; as he copes with the memories, he discovers who he is and can be. The quiet mystery of Hank's past is the central plot point, but the focus is more on the relationships he builds and his efforts to be a good person and make up for past misdeeds-whatever they may have been. Thematic elements from Thoreau are subtly deployed, planting the suggestion that teens pick up Walden. Introspective high schoolers will appreciate this enigmatic coming-of-age story.-Brandy Danner, Wilmington Memorial Library, MAα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

A boy wakes up on the floor of Penn Station with an aching head and a copy of Walden in his hand; beyond that, he knows nothing—not his name, not his family, and certainly not how he ended up there. The first things he remembers, surprisingly, are long passages of Walden, so he dubs himself “Henry David,” or Hank, as he comes to be known, sensing that Thoreau’s book contains some clues to his real identity. The next few days are a jumble of experiences, and throughout it all, a “beast” in Hank’s head keeps up a furious attack against the return of his memory. Only when his memory begins to resurface does Hank realize that the beast has been protecting him from a terrible truth. Frequent passages from Walden are a pleasing complement to the relentless tensions of Hank’s situation, as is the romance when Hank and a girl click through their mutual love of music. Think James Dashner’s Maze Runner series meets High School Musical: an engaging and unique book. Grades 9-12. --Diane Colson

Product Details

  • File Size: 597 KB
  • Print Length: 317 pages
  • Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company (April 16, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,776 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bottom line: Yes, read it and enjoy February 17, 2013
I admit to a certain amount of trepidation at reading Being Henry David, by Cal Armistead. I am not a fan of Thoreau; I like the political attitude of civil disobedience he espoused, and his natural descriptions are compelling, but his "wouldn't it all be nicer if we just lived more simply" philosophy frankly irritates me. Sure, let's try that if we're not a relatively well-off white man in good health and see how it works out. Another cause for nervousness is that I really like YA books, and have read mostly award winning, excellent authors -- Dianne Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, John Christopher. If I was a novelist I wouldn't want my first book to be read by me.

Bottom line: BHD won me over. Thoreau is there -- indeed he permeates the book -- but philosophy is not the order of the day. The protagonist, Hank, is not content to abandon life's complexities; indeed part of his journey is to accept that you have a duty to society, to the people that love you -- that life is complex and that makes it good. Maybe it's my bias, but I see Thoreau as a temptation that he needs to resist. It's hard to be clearer without heavy spoiler alerts, but I feel the resolution at the end of the book makes that plain to the reader. And, after all, isn't the amnesia he starts with the ultimate in simplicity? Not only no physical baggage, but no mental luggage either? And that is what he fights against and struggles with -- the driving force in the book.

On the other hand, the aspects of Thoreau I do appreciate stand out in the book: Cal writes cleanly and evocatively, with descriptions that are natural and relevant -- no forced metaphors here that will make you wince.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow. Brilliant! February 22, 2013

I almost don't even know where to begin..I was hooked before I finished reading page one and couldn't put it down until I got to the end. I had about 15 pages or so left and I was getting so tired but, stubborn me, couldn't stop and sleep that close to the finish line!

"Being Henry David" pulls you through a full range of emotions. There were some humorous moments that made me, literally, laugh out loud. There were also a couple of parts that completely pull at your heart and made me cry. Actual sniffling, blurry vision, tears. Not to mention all of the anxiety filled moments as Hank starts to unlock memories and the guilt he struggles with from it. The absolute war he has going on within himself. Things he goes through when he starts out in the streets. There's just so much emotion going on and you can't help but just...feel when reading this book.

Being able to bring all that out in me has placed this book in my top 10 favorite reads. Ever. I'd even go so far as saying it's going into my top 5. It's passion inspiring books like this that make me glad I'm a reader.

I was hopeful that it would be good when I read the synopsis in NetGalley and put in a request and I'd like to thank the Teen department at Albert Whitman & Company for giving me the opportunity to read such an amazing book!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crisp Mystery with Depth December 29, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an extraordinarily efficient novel. Armistead evokes Oliver Twist, Catcher in the Rye, Huck Finn, and, of course, Walden while telling a story that wraps in a road adventure, romance, music, and a mystery that not only asks whodunnit, but whatdidhedun. And all of THAT is firmly anchored to the most fundamental theme in a coming of age story-- who am I?

The main character is on a literal search for identity from the moment he wakes up in Penn Station with no memory of who he is. Armistead ties that fundamental question (Who am I?) to the other question that young adults wrestle with-- what if I'm really not a very good person?

All that, plus the novel's strong use of Henry David Thoreau, might lead one to imagine/fear that the work is deep, thoughty, and overwrought. Fear not. Armistead carries her themes forward dramatically without belaboring them, and the novel is a model of efficiency, sketching character and actions in a way that is brisk but not hurried.

It's particularly impressive that Armistead captures her main character's voice so well (even though she has never been a seventeen-year-old boy). His voice so strongly and assuredly fills the novel that we know him and like him, even as he doesn't know or necessarily like himself. The supporting cast is also filled in nicely without ever slowing the forward progress of the story. Armistead's hand is so strong and assured that even as the story takes us cross country to meet an unusual cast of characters, the reader is never pulled out of the story. There is never a moment when you see the author's hand manipulating events, never a moment when you want to say, "Oh, now, wait a minute."

The novel is an easy, compelling read. It's a vehicle with a great deal packed into it, but it never sags under the weight. This deserves to be widely read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This one is a keeper October 21, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I almost didn't buy this book. I found it on the Kindle Daily Deals at a reduced price, and I looked at the tiny picture of the cover and hesitated before reading the description. I read a lot of books, and I'm right in the middle of reading a wonderful science fiction series. I wasn't sure I wanted to take on another obligation, so to speak. (When I borrow a book, I feel the obligation to take good care of it. When I purchase a book, I feel the need to read at least the first fifty pages in a timely fashion.)

So I put aside the science fiction story (I was between battles, anyway) and started reading Being Henry David. Wow. I know that's not a descriptive term, but it's an accurate one when it comes to describing this novel. I love the main character. Henry David (aka Hank) is believable, likable, and I found myself rooting for him within five minutes of reading the story. I can't tell you more about Hank in this review, because exploring the mystery of the character is a good part of what makes this book work so well.

The other part is just the fact that this is a well written novel. It falls under that description of books which make you keep turning the page, because you have to know what happens next. Hank is a typical guy in an atypical situation. And despite the male main character, this is not just a 'guy' book which only appeals to male readers. Anyone (of any age, because I'm not a young adult) can fall in love with the main character and his story.

If you are a young adult or the parent of one, be advised that there is some violence (described and implied) in the book. It's not the focus of the book, but it is part of several scenes and and used as such to set up the very real dangers inherent in Hank's life.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Full of hits and misses
This book was a way that at times I didn't entirely love, but in the end did touch me. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Elizabeth @ so long and thanks for all the fish
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable
This is an evocative story, well told; a remarkable debut novel. Many reviewers have gone into detail - so I won't go there. I just want to add my applause. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jan
5.0 out of 5 stars A 7th graders' review
Being Henry David is an excellent story. Henry David, a seventeen-year-old, finds himself on a train station platform in New York with no memory on how he got there. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Elijah Rivera
5.0 out of 5 stars A mysterious adventure
My Thoughts:

I was curious about this one although a little apprehensive as to whether I would like it or not. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jessica L Sankiewicz
3.0 out of 5 stars I generally enjoy the YA genre
I generally enjoy the YA genre, but over-all I have to say this one was disappointing. I found myself skimming to try to get it over with at the end. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amy
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoreau for teens
This debut novel appealed to me in many ways: I love the writings and philosophy of Henry David Thoreau; I appreciate novels about finding identity; and I enjoy mysteries. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Joshua David Bellin
5.0 out of 5 stars Yay
I found this a delightful book that was amazing sorry a lot of words are required so lol xd yay
Published 5 months ago by Kindle Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars A clever story about identity and salvation.
Cal Armistead deftly captures a young voice in her novel Being Henry David; the story of a troubled teenage boy who runs away from home after trauma affects his memory. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Ursula Wong
5.0 out of 5 stars The joy of an elder adult reading a wonderful YA novel.
Reading this Young Adult novel was pure joy. I am an elder with a strong passion for Thoreau. This story of a young man's journey to regain a lost memory brings him to Walden Pond... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Claudia Skelton
4.0 out of 5 stars I'd recommend it for the new reader as it is well ...
A quite interesting book for the young. I'd recommend it for
the new reader as it is well written and geared to the young
but I enjoyed reading about the area very much.
Published 6 months ago by Soupy
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More About the Author

Cal has been a writer since age 9, when she submitted her first book, The Poor Macaroni Named Joany to a publisher. Sadly, this literary gem did not make it to print. But Cal continued pursuing her lifelong passion, and wrote copiously for radio, newspapers and magazines (Cal has been published in The Chicago Tribune, Shape Magazine, Body & Soul Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul and others). Although it took years for Cal to try her hand again at fiction writing, her first young adult novel (Being Henry David) will be published by Albert Whitman & Co. on March 1, 2013. Cal holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine, works at an independent book store, is a voice-over actress, sings semi-professionally, and lives in a Boston suburb with her amazing husband and a dog named Layla.

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