Cal Armistead lives near Concord, Massachusetts, where most of this story is set, and of course, since it’s Concord, the “Henry David” of the title refer to Henry David Thoreau, Concord’s most famous former resident. This YA novel, however, is set in current times, and it’s an amnesia novel, just so you know going in.
Amnesia, the kind where you forget your own name and everything about your past, is not very common, but it’s really useful in creating a suspenseful, roller coaster plot with and identity, who-am-I theme. Being Henry David is strong in terms of plot. Unexpected events give the story credibility and draw the reader into the plot. I wanted to keep reading to find out who Henry David, or Hank as he calls himself in the book, really was and what would happen to him. I was fairly sure that he was not, as one minor character suggested, a reincarnation of Henry David Thoreau, even though Thoreau does appear in Hank’s dreams and give him advice.
The characterization in this novel, on the other hand, is just O.K., not bad, but also not exciting. I never really felt as if I knew Hank or completely understood his motivations, even after he remembered who he was. And the other characters are stereotypical: the love interest with a silky, sultry voice, the kindly research librarian, the absentee parents, a couple of abused teen runaways, and the scary drug dealer. These are all characters who could exist, but I never totally bought in to any of them.
So Being Henry David has a good plot, OK characters, recognizable themes of guilt, remembrance, and identity. It was an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.