Being Henry David: Synopsis and Notable Achievements

Synopsis of Being Henry David, a young adult novel by Cal Armistead

A teenage boy awakes from a deep sleep to find himself at Penn Station in New York City, with no memory of who he is, or where he came from. His only possession is a book at his side:  Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.  He decides to take the name Henry David, shortened to “Hank” by Jack, a street kid who befriends him. Shortly after they meet, Jack and Hank are involved in a crime with a kid-exploiting criminal called Magpie. Afraid to approach the authorities for help, Hank flees to Concord, Massachusetts, hoping that Walden–both the book and the location–will offer clues to his identity. That first night, Hank sleeps outdoors at the site of Thoreau’s cabin, then seeks shelter in the local high school and the public library. A tattooed, motorcycle-riding librarian/Thoreau historian named Thomas takes Hank under his wing, and guides him on the painful path to discovering his true identity. When Hank can run no further from the truth, will he confront the tragedy of his life or seek the ultimate escape?

Buy it at your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon now! Being Henry David

– Best Teen Books of 2013, Kirkus Reviews
– 2014 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People – Grades 7-12
– Bank Street College of Education – Best Children’s Books of the Year – 2014 Edition
– Illinois Reads 2014 – Under the auspices of the Illinois Reading Council, ILLINOIS
READS is a yearly statewide project to promote reading for all Illinois citizens. BHD
was one of 36 books chosen, one of six Young Adult titles.
Social Media Recognition:

– Ezvid Wiki (December, 2018) – 10 Novels About Teens Away from Home

– BuzzFeed (Jun. 24, 2014) – 15 YA Books That You Haven’t Read (ButTotally Should)

– BuzzFeed (Dec. 26, 2013) – The 21 Best YA Books of 2013
– Mashable (Dec. 18, 2013) – 11 Best YA Books of 2013
– Sparklife (Nov 20, 2012) – 17 Upcoming YA Novels to Get Excited About
Selected Reviews:
The Boston Globe – “Cal Armistead’s story of Hank is not only an English teacher’s
dream, (if “Walden” is on your required reading list, this makes a nice companion piece), it’s also a clever look at identity and who we are without our baggage.”
Kirkus Starred Review – “This compelling, suspenseful debut, a tough-love riff on guilt, forgiveness and redemption, asks hard questions to which there are no easy answers.”
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s BooksRecommendation – “Even those with Little interest in Thoreau will find this a solid psychological mystery about a teen who’s made a mistake that he can’t keep running from.”
VOYA – “Believable and nicely crafted, this story has much to recommend it. Pacing and Suspense are just right as the mystery of Hank’s identity begins to unravel and he faces the terrible event that stole his memory.”
School Library Journal – “Introspective high schoolers will appreciate this enigmatic
coming-of-age story.”
Publishers Weekly Online “. . .Hank’s personal tragedies are touching, as are his
interactions with everyone from street kids Jack and Nessa to the more sedate citizens of Concord. His quests for answers and redemption should easily engage readers.”
School Curriculum Partnerships:
  • A large number of junior high and high schools across the country have added Being Henry David to their curriculums, as all-school, all-grade, all-class reads, and to supplement units on Thoreau, Walden and the transcendentalists.
    Teachers have also identified BHD as being a good choice for reluctant readers and male readers.

30 responses to “Being Henry David: Synopsis and Notable Achievements

  1. Pingback: Got Plans Tonight? | A Life in Books

  2. I read a lot of teen books partly because I am a young adult librarian, but mostly because I really like them. I really enjoyed this one. I could not wait for ‘Hank’ to discover his true identity. It was also interesting because I had just visited Concord last fall (although my wife and I skipped Walden Pond – neither of us being Thoreau fans and having limited time there). I wrote about your book on my blog:

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Indianapolis, Indiana

  3. Cal

    Will–thanks so much for your comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. Luckily, you don’t have to be a fan of Thoreau to read the book. (Whew!) Thanks also for writing about my book on your blog–nice write-up. 🙂

    • Mark Williams

      Many of my students have wondered if you had plans for a sequel so that they could know what happens to Danny and Hailey, Jack and Nessa and Thomas. I have taught your book for a few years now and it has been a great read for my students.

      • Cal

        Since you asked…this is the first time ever that I’m revealing YES…there will be a sequel…it’s in the very beginning stages right now, but it’s happening… 🙂

      • Cal

        THANK YOU so much for teaching my book. Where are you? Perhaps sometime I could stop by for a visit!

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  5. Vickie

    Thank you for coming to BayPath College this month to talk about your book. Wonderful, wonderful book. Now I know why Sue Kaplan said it was the top pick for the young readers in the Link to Libraries program. I will be sending your book to ND to share with my family. Can’t wait for your next book.
    Longmeadow, MA

  6. April

    Hi Cal,
    My 13 yr. Old son and I often read books together. Yours spoke to us so much that I wanted to thank you and let you know that now my book club is experiencing it too. It’s nice to read something that’s based in reality with such a strong message about the importance of finding oneself.
    Lincoln, NE

  7. Greetings,
    Thanks for a great read. I’m a middle school teacher & aspiring YA writer, so I read heaps of teen books. Hank’s story was compelling, the characters he interacts with along the way are fully developed & complex people, & the ending was incredibly satisfying. I’ll definitely be pushing this one on unsuspecting students.

  8. Alyssa Shears

    I’ve just read Being Henry David for the third time and each time I fall more in love with it! I can’t put it down from the moment I pick it up! I hope you write more books in the future (correction: I need you to write books in the future!). You are one of my all time favorite authors and I’m proud to call myself a devoted fan 🙂

    • Cal

      Alyssa…you’ve read it three times?? WOW–so cool! Yes, yes, I’m definitely writing another book…ALMOST done. I’m honored to have you as a devoted fan. 🙂

  9. Caitlyn Babbidge

    I absolutely loved the book. I have to say, in my 6 years at Seekonk, this was the only all-school read book that I loved. Your visit today was so inspiration as well. Thank you so much!

  10. Victoria

    HI , I accidentally came across your book in a book store , and after just three days i have finished it , to be precise , just 5 minutes ago and I LOVE YOUR BOOK OMG I literally can’t stop reading it and just omg it was awesome.

    • Cal

      Victoria, I’m so glad you loved my book–that makes me so happy! You made my day. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment!

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  13. Alexandra Paramo

    This book is amazing I’ve read it twice and still dont get bored of it….it needs to be a movie!!!😀

  14. David Sanders

    Hello, I have a question about the ending. What happens to Hailey? Does he come back to her and they fall in love? Or does he completely leaves her and goes with his dad? Does Hank really transfer to that school? Please answer me 🙂 Thank you

    • Cal

      David–hey, thanks so much for writing! I hoped to put some little clues in about what happens next, and I like readers to think about what YOU think happened. 🙂 But since you asked, I’ll tell you what I think. Yes, Danny comes back to Concord, and yes, he and Hailey get reacquainted, now that he knows who he is. After his dad finds him in Maine, he has to go home and figure things out with his family and finish school, but by summertime, I think Hank will be back in Concord!

  15. Cynthia Graves

    Cynthia Graves
    November 29, 2015

    Cal. We spent sometime together in the Ocean Park Writer’s Conference in past years. Am in the midd of your wonderful book. It is especially meaningful for me now as I am in the middle of a year’s blog with Henry David Thoreau. Each morning, I write to Henry David. Tomorrow, Nov. 30th, I will be writing to Henry to tell him that his amazing life goes on in your novel; he is on the move in this generation.
    Thanks to you, and Kudos…check it out at

  16. Matt

    My favorite book

  17. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Well done! Hank is a wonderful character, and Thomas is so rich.

    If you are interested, you may read my review (which I will later post to Goodreads, Amazon, and Indigo) here:

  18. Mark Williams

    I am a teacher at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida. Thank you for the response to my earlier question about the possible sequel to Being Henry David. As I said before, my students really liked the book, but were curious about what happens next to the characters in the book. When I told them that a sequel was in the works, a few said they couldn’t wait and would definitely read it when it came out. Good luck on your endeavors. Thanks for writing such a great book that allows teaching a historical time period while being contemporary and engaging for today’s readers.

  19. Andrwe

    Hi! I am a big fan of your novel Being Henry David! I really love the character development and the world building as he meets different people and they are start to connect in the story.

    Do you have a fan mail address?

    – Andrew

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