Book: Being Henry David
Author: Cal Armistead
Teen Reviewer: Shannon Finney
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Being Henry David by Cal Armistead tells the story of a teenage boy who wakes up in Penn station having no idea who he is. All he has with him is a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. He adopts the philosophy of the book and uses is to guide him on his journey to rediscovering himself, and confronting the dark past behind him that he won’t let himself remember.
The beginning of the novel is promising, at least as far as the plot goes, as everything about the main character is a mystery. However, the writing style immediately got old for me when I discovered that the sentence fragments are not just a way to convey the chaos and confusion going on in the protagonist’s mind as he awakes for the first time, but the way that the entire book is written. With unimpressive prose, the protagonist, who is dubbed “Hank” by a random street rat he meets in a bathroom, sets out on his journey of bad decision making and highly unrealistic, half-though-out scenarios.
The most annoying part of the book, for me, is that new mysterious and secrets are constantly introduced whose solutions are highly anticipated but rarely satisfactory. The entire plot savors of anti-climax. The utter dullness of the conflicts is mostly due to the setting where most of the story takes place: Concord, MA, a snobby suburban tow where everyone Hank meets is instantly friendly and accommodating despite knowing nothing about him. I find this an odd direction for the author to take the plot, even though this is the town that Thoreau is from. Here, although he has no recollection of his former life, Hank lives a basically normal life with a normal girlfriend and normal problems, with the exception of the unrealistic amount of coincidental meetings with former friends and foes, who always appear just at the right time.
On top of all this, the characterization is weak. We learn nothing about our main character except that he has a healthy interest in girls and athletic and musical skills. Likewise, each secondary character is assigned a few traits that are assigned to some societal stereotype. There is very little depth. The only glimmer if literary merit in the novel is its lesson of transcendentalism that can be taught to the reader who knows nothing about this movement in literature.
Overall, I found Being Henry David to be extremely light reading, with an unrealistic plot and underdeveloped, shallow characterization. The novel leaves much to be desired, like more interesting “pieces to the puzzle” of the many mysteries that arise, and a more respectable and likable protagonist. If you’re into books about high school, boyfriend/girlfriend drama and cutesy romance, then you’d probably like this book.