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Being Henry David

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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.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Cal Armistead

2 books75 followers
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, who 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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5 stars
606 (21%)
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891 (31%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 497 reviews
Profile Image for Cal Armistead.
Author 2 books75 followers
February 17, 2017
Excellent book! But then again, I wrote it... (Hey, if I don't believe in my book 100%, how can I expect anyone else to?) :)
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
July 28, 2021
i don't know why i am even bothering to write this, since the best thoreau-related book review has already been written, but i will try.

this book is not about thoreau. not directly.

it is about a boy who wakes up in penn station with no memory of who he is or where he has come from. all he has is ten dollars and a copy of walden, which one of new york's more colorful homeless individuals immediately tries to eat.

not a great day.

so, he doesn't know who he is, but he's got a strange feeling that he is on the run, since when he comes near some police officers, his body has a strange reaction. so instead of trying to figure anything out right away, he joins up with a teenage runaway named jack and his sister nessa, calling himself "henry david" (like the author of the book!!which is a better name than "ten dollars") until he can make a better plan.

while with them, something violent occurs, so henry (now "hank"), now seriously injured follows jack to what is supposed to be a safe haven, but is, if anything, worse than what has happened so far. so, escape part two is necessary.

ugh. the days are getting worse.

and hank still doesn't have his memory back, although he has discovered that he does have a photographic memory, which is nice. and ironic.

with the photographic part of his memory, he is able to memorize pretty much all of walden, and that's where he goes when he makes his grand escape from new york, leaving jack and nessa behind.

once in concord (don't worry, i am not going to do too much more plot-regurgitation), he meets a girl named hailey and a tattooed biker-librarian named thomas, and tries to piece together the bits of his past, while both hallucinating the presence of the real henry david, and trying to emulate him in ways.

i am pretty keen on amnesia-fiction, so i liked this one, even though its secrets aren't too hard to guess. i also like photographic-memory stories, and am jealous every time a character has one. cam jansen anyone? "click?" never worked for me.

this is part mystery novel, part healing novel. as hank slowly starts to remember his past, he also has to deal with what he finds there, and that is a stronger storyline than the actual mystery-part. i enjoyed the story of a character trying to escape, trying to start over, and eventually, trying to accept.

all through good old thoreau.

oh, which is another thing i like: books that might lead young readers to other books. learning!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,921 followers
March 1, 2013
I will now tell you bad, bad things about this book. If you’re uncomfortable with me telling you such things, you’d best look away ‘cause it’s about to start. Consider yourselves warned.

Being Henry David is a very ambitious project. I believe it was supposed to be a deep, cathartic experience, a heart-wrenching story about a young man unable to face the consequences of his actions. At least I think that’s what Cal Armistead set out to write. What she actually wrote, in my humble opinion, is an aimless novel with no real emotion or depth.

I always try to balance things out in my negative reviews and I don’t particularly enjoy being this harsh, especially when writing about a debut author’s work, but after careful consideration, I’ve decided it’s best to be painfully honest and let you come to your own conclusions.

A boy wakes up at the New York Penn Station with no memories and no possessions whatsoever. The only thing he has on him is a book, Walden by Henry David Thoreau, and he decides it’s some kind of a clue. He names himself Henry David, Hank, and starts hanging out with two street kids, Jack and Nessa. After an incident that could put them all in jail, Hank leaves New York to go to Concord, Massachusetts where he wants to explore Walden Pond and Thoreau’s way of life.

I consider telling the cops that I’m lost, and can’t remember who I am. Maybe they can help me. But there’s that thing in my chest like a brick wall that says this would be a terrible idea. Some fuzzy instinct me it’s not safe to go to the police. Fuzzy instinct isn’t much to go on, but it’s all I have. I decide to trust it.

Apparently, it has become very popular to write novels that lean heavily on another novel or author, usually a classic. (How very postmodern of you, Ms. Armistead!) In this case, Henry David Thoreau was on every page, both through his work and his life. Hank dreamed about him, hallucinated him, followed his movements, and thanks to his photographic memory, he quoted him at every turn. There were, at times, more H.D. Thoreau quotes than actual text and they swallowed this story whole and suffocated it in the process.

The romance, slight as it was, felt almost like an afterthought, added somewhere along the line because some editor said so. I could be wrong, of course, but I don’t think it was there from the start. That entire subplot was this book’s weakest link, unnecessary, unconvincing and maybe even a bit silly. I’ve seen this so many times, almost every time a female author writes from a male perspective about a female love interest. It just doesn’t click.

Being Henry David offers no closure, no real resolution. Quite a few secondary characters are left right in the middle of a very dire situation, without so much as a hint about their fate. Instead of a proper ending, a strange, dream-like scene concludes the book, all wrapped up in far too many Thoreau quotes, of course. It’s a pity, really, because Cal Armistead is not an untalented author. She has a wonderful understanding of her characters, but she mostly just lets them wander around aimlessly.

Better luck next time, I guess. For all of us.

Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,483 reviews7,782 followers
October 29, 2013
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

NetGalley ARC. Thank you, NetGalley!

2.5 Stars

A 17-year old boy wakes up at Penn Station with no memory. All he knows is he has $10 in his pocket, along with a copy of Thoreau’s Walden. Rather than confessing his bizarre story, he chooses to introduce himself as Henry David when he meets a kid named Jack who seems to know his way around the train station. Venturing out to the mean streets, he is nicknamed “Hank” by Jack and his sister, Nessa. The three soon run into trouble and “Hank” decides to leave the city and go to Walden Pond. He can think of no reason for him to be carrying the book unless that was his initial destination and the way to find an answer that will cure his amnesia.

The idea behind this novel is decent and original. Something horrible has happened and “Hank” is suffering from amnesia. The journey to Walden Pond is good, the piecing back together of his memories is interesting. Unfortunately, it’s just reeeaaaaaaally far-fetched in that “Hank’s” memories return, but luckily he has been taken in by an ultra cool hipster who is more than willing to let him continue to hang for a few days before figuring out how to get him back to his real life. Really, brother? That would be called kidnapping. There’s also a girl storyline (of course there’s a girl, right?) which is fine, but then we add in a random talent show and it all gets a bit convoluted. You can definitely do worse when it comes to YA novels, but you can do a lot better too.

Oh, if by chance you’re wondering the answer to “What Would Henry David Do?” – apparently he would sing “Blackbird” at a talent show rather than deal with reality.

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Blackbird fly Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.”

Profile Image for Jess the Shelf-Declared Bibliophile.
2,043 reviews632 followers
December 30, 2015
What an amazing work of art, especially for a debut novel! This book had me sucked in for every single page right up until the end. I can't remember a protagonist I've so closely related to, even though our life experiences have been very different. I felt like I was in his head, thinking his thoughts and feelings his feelings. I do wish the ending provided more answers, especially as far as Nessa and Jack.
Profile Image for Graham.
47 reviews6 followers
March 1, 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. Aptly, the natural descriptions are particularly good; "leaves and pine needles and pebbles crunch in a cadence under my sneakers, lulling me into a comfortable trance". The p's and c's direct the rhythm, with the initial l's join the two thoughts. The long syllables of "comfortable" and the single long one of "trance" support the text, slowing the reader into their own comfortable contemplation. Good stuff.

Dream sequences are hard to pull off and so, again, it is apt as well as refreshing to see them used so well here. They are written with a definite oddity to them, but the style of writing does not change, so the reader feels some of the confusion of the dreamer, who does not know his dreams are not real. The dreams also serve dramatic purpose, often driving Hank forward, even by the mere fact that people can tell his dreams are troubled. They are not parenthetical, which is refreshing.

The protagonist is a boy -- a man, really, and it isn't easy writing inner monologue against gender. This makes little difference to the book, as although this is a story of self-discovery, it's not a journey that is about becoming a man, but becoming a person. There is romance and it is handled well, but for an eighteen year old boy, I might have expected a little more evidence of his gender in his internal thoughts.

Honestly, apart from this and a few clichés early on (of the "heart-pounding" and "clenched jaws" variety) the style is very assured, compelling and readable. I am happy to add this to the YA shelf in my library, where it will find the company quite companionable, I should think.
Profile Image for Sinta Nisfuanna.
960 reviews53 followers
November 1, 2016
“Sekalipun luka di bagian sampingku berdenyut setiap kali kakiku menginjak tanah, lari rasanya menyenangkan. Melarikan diri. Seakan aku sedang meloloskan diri dari sesuatu yang menyeramkan dan berlari kepada sesuatu yang lebih baik.” (h.49)

Terbangun dalam kondisi tidak mengenali diri sendiri, bukan sesuatu yang menyenangkan. ‘Aku’ tidak tahu apa yang terjadi hingga dirinya terdampar di Stasiun Penn, New York. Hanya sebuah buku Walden karya Henry David Thoreau yang berada di sampingnya dan uang senilai 10 dolar di kantong. Ingatan tentang dirinya sama sekali tidak ada, hanya kekosongan yang memenuhi benaknya. Harapannya bertumpu pada ‘harta’ satu-satunya, sebuah buku yang bisa mengungkap siapa dirinya.

‘Aku’ memutuskan menggunakan nama ‘Henry’ setiap kali melakukan perkenalan. Pertemuannya dengan Jack dan Nessa, hampir menjerumuskannya pada Magpie, seorang Bandar narkoba. Keputusan melarikan diri dari Magpie, mengarahkan pelariannya ke Concord, Massachusset, tempat Danau Walden berada. Buku Henry David ini sangat penting baginya, sepanjang perjalanan ‘Henry’ membaca dan mencoba mencari petunjuk.

“Kesimpulanku---jika aku benar--- Thoreau lelah dengan peradaban dan bagaimana orang-orang menjadi budak terhadap rumah-rumah bodoh dan harta benda mereka sendiri. Guna membuktikan bahwa dia bisa menjadi lebih bahagia tanpa hal-hal itu, dia hidup sesederhana mungkin dan pergi untuk tinggal di hutan. Kedengarannya dia benar-benar bahagia dan damai ketika dia di hutan seperti itu, tinggal di tepi danau. Pasti menyenangkan.” (h.61)

‘Henry’ banyak berbicara dengan diri sendiri dan imajinasinya. Mengais-ngais isi kepala demi mendapatkan secercah ingatan, hingga imajinasi mempertemukannya dengan bayangan Henry David di bekas kabin tempat tinggal si penulis yang telah hancur. Henry David sendiri adalah tokoh yang sangat diagungkan di Concord, bahkan beberapa tempat mengabadikan namanya. “Karya paling terkenal Thoreau berjudul Walden, or Life in the Woods adalah sebuah buku berdasarkan kisah hidupnya selama 2 tahun di Walden Pond di tanah Ralph Waldo Emerson. Dia membangun sebuah rumah kecil untuk dia tinggali pada tahun 1845-1847. Setelah pengalaman tersebut, dia menghabiskan waktu selama 9 tahun untuk menulis buku tersebut.” (Wikipedia)

Sisi romansa hadir dengan pertemuan ‘Henry’ dengan Hailey saat menuju Danau Walden di belakang sekolah Hailey. Rasa yang melenakan, terkadang membuatnya tak ingin mengetahui masa lalunya. Menghadirkan kebimbangan, menghiraukan masa lalu dan keinginan memulai hidup baru. “Aku kembali ke Danau Walden keesokan pagi. Aku ditarik ke sana, seolah-olah mungkin inilah tempat aku bisa menemukan jawaban. Hal yang sulit, mengingat aku bahkan tidak yakin apa pertanyaannya.” (h. 101) Namun, ingatan tentang darah dan adiknya yang terluka membuatnya bertahan untuk mencari ingatan dan menyelamatkan adiknya.

“Bagaimana jika ingatanku tidak pernah kembali? Kurasa aku punya dua pilihan: Menciptakan hidup tanpa masa lalu, memulainya di sini dan sekarang. Atau pergi ke Departemen Polisi Concord dan menyerahkan diri. Mereka akan menghubungi media dan memasukkanku ke dalam berita, dan akhirnya seseorang akan melihatku dan mengenaliku. Aku akan dibawa pulang kepada orangtua yang tak kuingat, kepada hidup yang sepertinya kujauhi. Hanya jika mereka menginginkanku kembali.” (h. 151)

Kekalutan terus membayangi, hingga ingatan pun akhirnya hadir membawa kesedihan. Pelarian diri terus menjadi pilihan yang tidak dapat dihiraukan. Pikiran ‘Henry’ kesakitan mengingat penderitaan adiknya, rasa bersalah yang begitu besar, ternyata menjadi penyebab ingatannya tertutup. Kenyataan yang ternyata memang ingin dia hapus selamanya. Usaha yang menggiringnya pada pertemuan dan pemikiran tentang hidup yang mendalam.

“Semuanya menjadikan pilihan nomor satu sebagai yang terbaik: menciptakan hidupku sendiri, sesuai keinginanku, seperti yang Thoreau lakukan.” (h. 151)

Saya suka bagian menjelang akhir cerita, saat ‘Henry’ memutuskan mendaki Gunung Katahdin dalam pelariannya. Akhir dimana dia mulai mencerna kembali ingatan dan perjalanan yang sudah ditempuhnya sejauh ini. Buku ini mengandung filsafat meski ringan dengan keseharian remaja dan saya suka bagaimana penulis konsisten mempertahankan karakter tokohnya dengan baik.

“Aku berlari sejauh mungkin. Berlari dari padang rumput di Illinois ke New York dan ke Concord, Massachusetts. Melarikan diri dari orangtuaku dan dari Magpie. Pada dasarnya, aku mencoba melarikan diri dari apa yang telah kulakukan. Tapi perbuatan mengikutiku ke mana pun aku pergi, bahkan mengikutiku hingga ke puncak gunung ini.” (h. 270)

Profile Image for Hana Bilqisthi.
Author 4 books258 followers
December 20, 2016
Jadi meskipun hidupmu berantakan, kau akan mempertahankannya hanya karena ini bukan hal yang asing bagimu?

Being Henry David adalah buku yang membuatmu merenung tentang kehidupan. Saat membaca kalimat di atas, aku merasa tersindir dan mengakui ada kebenaran dalam kalimat tersebut mengingat aku termasuk tipe yang nyaman dengan rutinitas dan seringkali memilih bertahan hanya karena hal tersebut familiar bagiku. Membaca Being Henry David mengajarkanku untuk berani pergi dan berubah dari hal yang tidak baik bagiku, meskipun perubahan adalah sesuatu yang asing dan cukup menakutkan.

Review lengkap dan mengandung spoiler bisa baca di blog https://hanabilqisthi.wordpress.com/2...
Hana Book Review
Profile Image for Amy S.
16 reviews
April 24, 2021
This book was... Okay
Honestly, I liked the beginning when Hank was in New York City the most. At least SOME interesting stuff happened in there- assaulting a client in an alleyway, Frankie eating weird stuff, and also Jack and Nessa not being added in bEcAuSe WhY NoT (they served some purpose in NY). Once Hank got to Concord, things went downhill.
The best character is Thomas honestly. He's funny, helpful, and understanding to Hank. Suzanne might come at a fair second.
I didn't like Cameron- he was just a pain because oH nO hAnK sToLe HiS sHiRt. Seriously, make him a pain for another reason than that. Otherwise he seems like a stock character.
The romantic relationship.. Hmm no. Why with some girl Hank met at the train station??
Also adding Jack and Nessa into Concord; um, no. Seems fairly random if you ask me.
Ending was a disaster. The rain should have been acidic so we wouldn't have to deal with Hank again.
Profile Image for Matilda.
71 reviews
March 2, 2013
GIVEAWAY on our blog: ENTER FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A COPY OF BEING HENRY DAVID - http://characterized.blogspot.com/201...

What I Liked:
If you've ever had that one person you can always confide in, that one place you can go to clear your head of all the hectic thoughts flying around your mind or even that one action you can perform that makes everything seem ... not worth all the hassle; then you're like Henry David - or in this case, Hank. Being Henry David was about a teenage guy named Hank. One day, Hank wakes up in Penn Station around midnight with little to no memory of who he is, where he is, or how he got there; the only thing he's able to truly claim as his is a copy of Walden by Henry David. Throughout the novel, Hank struggles with his identity, as well as, memories and feelings that arise pertaining to his past. These feelings and memories lead him closer to who he used to be. But when you can't look back, or look left or right for help, the only way to move, is forward. And who better to help him on his journey then Henry David?

I loved the frustration and eagerness that Armistead was able to portray in Hank's character. He was so close to the truth, yet so far. Each time he conjured up something from his past, he'd evidently hit this brick wall. The fact that his frustration was able to be felt by me, was proof of the amazing job Armistead did in developing Hank. Although Being Henry David was a contemporary novel, I found it oddly thrilling. In a way, Hank lives his life on the edge! Normal people start off their day where they left off yesterday, but for Hank, it was a clean slate every day. Not knowing where he was going, and who he'd be going with was an aspect that I grew to love about Being Henry David. What I loved about Armistead's writing was the perspective in which the reader (ME) is given. Hank was cautious, yet confident, lonely, but strong. As he builds new relationships, and establishes trust, Hank's thoughts are shown to be hilariously analytic and a bit judgmental.

What I Didn't Like
I didn't dislike this aspect of the plot, but I wasn't sure what to think of the fact that Hank was having conversations with the dead author of Walden, Henry David.

To read or not to read? (Sum-up)
Being Henry David was a though-provoking, contemporary YA novel that will thrust you into the life of Hank, a far-from-average teenage guy, working a little harder to work toward remembering who he is. This tale of rediscovery sprinkled with a whole lot of spontaneity will make readers question what it really means to live.
Profile Image for Aya Murning.
162 reviews20 followers
August 8, 2017
Saat terbangun di Stasiun Penn, ‘Hank’ tidak bisa mengingat siapa dirinya, siapa namanya, bagaimana wajahnya, dari mana asalnya, di mana rumahnya, dan mengapa dia ada di sana? Ia sama sekali tidak ingat apa-apa. Yang ia punya hanya pakaian yang dikenakannya, uang sejumlah $10 di kantungnya, dan sebuah buku berjudul ‘Walden’ yang tergeletak di dekat bangkunya.

“Orang lain mungkin akan menyerah, melangkah pergi dan membeli buku. Tapi, orang lain tidak muncul begitu saja di sebuah stasiun kereta tanpa kartu identitas dan barang bawaan. Tanpa ingatan, bahkan tanpa sebuah nama. Hanya ada sebuah buku. Buku yang mungkin mengandung petunjuk…” – hlm. 8

Ia mengasumsikan buku itu adalah miliknya karena sedang berada di dekatnya. Hank mengira bahwa mungkin di buku itu bisa ditemukan petunjuk tentang dirinya. Meski sempat bergulat untuk merebut buku itu dari orang gila di Stasiun Penn, Hank berhasil mendapatkannya lagi.

“Bagiamana jika ingatanku tidak pernah kembali? Kurasa aku punya dua pilihan: Menciptakan hidup tanpa masa lalu, memulainya di sini dan sekarang. Atau pergi ke Departemen Polisi Concord dan menyerahkan diri.” – hlm. 151

Apa saja yang ia lalui selama ia lupa ingatan? Akankah ia berhasil mengingat kembali jati dirinya?


Sejak kalimat pertama, aku bisa langsung merasakan diriku ikut masuk sebagai lelaki amnesia ini yang awalnya menamai dirinya sebagai Henry David–nama itu ia ambil dari nama pengarang buku ‘Walden’ yang sejak tadi dipegangnya. Penggunaan POV 1 di mana penulis sebagai ‘aku’ memang sangat tepat untuk novel ini.

Sebuah perjalanan yang sangat kunikmati bagaimana Hank melewati masa-masanya sebagai orang tanpa identitas. Lebih dipersulit keadaannya ketika ia tak bisa mengingat apa pun tentang dirinya. Sebagai remaja yang rawan dengan rasa bimbang dan niat kabur sebagai pelarian, aku juga mampu merasakan itu semua.

Ending yang cukup menyentuh, menurutku. Hanya saja terasa begitu cepat terselesaikan. Tadinya aku mengharapkan ada scene yang lebih dramatis, tapi ya tidak apa-apa. Tetap ada kesan khusus yang melekat di benakku melalui jalan ceritanya. Melalui kisah ini aku seperti berkaca tentang diriku pada 6 atau 7 tahun yang lalu. Suddenly I shed my tears when I remember all those hard times.

Thank you, Hank, for your memorable story!

Review selengkapnya bisa dibaca di sini
Profile Image for Rachel Sharpe.
88 reviews4 followers
April 19, 2013
Summary: A boy wakes up at Penn Station without his memory. His only clue is a copy of Walden, which a crazy man just tried to eat. In the absence of a name, the boy calls himself “Henry David” and sets off on a quest to discover his past.

Along the way, he meets the runaway twins caught up with a drug lord, a former convict turned reference librarian and Thoreau enthusiast, and a diabetic girl with a beautiful voice turned love interest. (Yup, that’s right. A guy with no memory gets a girlfriend before he even knows his own name. Cuz that’s smart.)

But despite Henry’s quest for answers, he can’t stop running away. Will he ever face the past?

Review: One of the best parts about memory loss books is that the reader can discover the character as the character is rediscovering him/herself. Armistead never gave me that chance. She focused so much on adrenaline-packed scenes (knife fights, drug dealers, near-death-situations) that I never got to discover Henry as a fully fleshed out character. He’s totally flat.

Not to mention, after reading a lot of romance-y books, I was kind of excited for a dark and gritty tale about lost memories and the past. Unfortunately, what follows is a high school love triangle, complete with a Battle of the Bands and the boy next door. Obviously.

I do have to give Armistead some credit, though. I really appreciated her characterization of Henry’s memories as a “black beast” and the physical pain he felt while trying to access them. But even that characterization can’t save a lackluster book.

Final Verdict: The book promises what it can’t deliver, which is an unforgivable sin in the book world. And that’s what frustrates me about the book. It promised me a gripping tale of reclaiming lost memories, but all I got was a diluted romance with some far-fetched action.

Side Note: Why did the publisher categorize this as a children's book on Netgalley? It's not even close.

Thanks to Netgalley for the copy.
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,883 reviews5,801 followers
March 13, 2017
I'm sorry to say that this book didn't work for me.

It didn't start out that way, actually. I thought the concept of this book was really interesting. A guy wakes up in Penn Station with no memory of any time before that moment, and his only possession is a worn "Walden". He has a huge lump on his head and with only $10 in his pocket, he is forced to find some way to survive and figure out where he came from. From author's blurb and from this promising beginning, I was hoping for a gritty survival book with pieces of his traumatic former life artfully revealed at pivotal moments. I was ready with my big girl pants to read about some heartbreaking young adult drama, and I was dying to learn what kinds of secrets the main character's mysterious past held. Unfortunately, I put on my big girl pants for nothing.

It didn't take long for the plot to take a turn to the ridiculous. I just have to say one phrase to show how far this book veered from my original expectations. Battle of the bands. Ugh. I didn't need the silly romantic drama that worked its way into the book, nor did I need the melodramatic relationship that the main character had with the librarian/historian. Yeah... I felt very led astray by this book. Maybe some readers will enjoy the fluff but didn't dig it.

**This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review**
Profile Image for anoushka.
12 reviews2 followers
November 21, 2021
LMAOOO I had to read this for school and it was SO BAD
what even was the plot 😭 it was so stupid
hank literally didn’t have a personality
and hank and hailey had literally no development he was just like omg she’s not like other girls 🤩

also the ending was literally so rushed and made no sense like I think the author just started writing and then made up the plot as they went 😭 and then couldn’t think of how to tie it up well
Profile Image for Magdalena Deniz.
78 reviews
February 25, 2018
i’m sorry.

i tried. I TRIED. but i got 100 pages in and it STILL was boring and s o s l o w and i just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. Maybe i’ll come back to this later, but i do wish the speed picked up right away, especially with the plot line.
Profile Image for Mersini.
692 reviews23 followers
January 28, 2013
Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company (via NetGalley)

What a great book. It follows Hank, a teenager who wakes up at Penn Station, New York, without the first idea of how he got there, who he is, or where he is supposed to be going. He makes friends, escapes the clutches of a drug dealer, and ends up in Concord, Massachusetts because his only possession is a battered copy of Thoreau's Walden; here he seems to get some semblance of a life together. This is a book, not only about finding yourself, but about starting afresh. In losing his memory, Hank is given the opportunity to reinvent himself. Of course, as always seems to happen in fiction, his memories return, and with them his original identity of Danny Henderson, but this time it's layered over Hank, over the things that happened to him as Hank, and there's the impression that while he is one, he is also truly the other.

What is nice is that Hank doesn't seem to be the type of kid who normally appears in teen fiction - the nerdy, misfit type. Though at first he doesn't know who he is, we find as the novel proceeds that he is a track runner, good looking, well built, a guitar player, and has an almost photographic memory and an obsession with Henry David Thoreau. Armistead has done a great thing in shattering a stereotype; Hank is neither jock, nor nerd and is fine with being neither. It's an important thing to have an a book aimed at young adults.

Perhaps the idea is difficult to believe at first, in all its ludicrousness, but as the novel proceeds you're drawn into the world of Hank trying to find out who he is while gathering something of a normal life around himself. You want to know what happened to him as much as he does.
Unfortunately, the concept is not the only ludicrous thing about the novel. Hank also sees visions of Thoreau himself, the writer often giving him advice. It's a good book, though it quotes Thoreau sometimes unnecessarily, but the appearance of the man, even though he is clearly a symbol of how close Hank is coming to connecting with the life he can't remember, adds a supernatural element to the novel that detracts from the overall effectiveness.

The only other thing I can say is that an epilogue tying all the loose ends together would have been nice. It was frustrating to get to the end and find that Hank had become Danny, but didn't want to leave Hank behind, and then not be told how he was going to be able to hold both lives together as one. As a reader, we don't care as much about his former life because we don't have an emotional connection to it - but Hank's life, the people in it, we want to know what comes of them, where they go, who he keeps in touch with, whether they live good, happy lives or not.It's a great book but if it needs an epilogue; it would infinitely improve the ending.

I probably won't read this book again, but is has definitely sparked an interest in Thoreau that I will have to follow through.
Profile Image for Dayla.
2,177 reviews203 followers
February 7, 2013
Review first appeared on my blog: Book Addict 24-7

I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Cal Armistead's Being Henry David is a young adult contemporary novel that examines the effects of grief and the fear that guilt creates within us. "Henry David", or "Hank", is the protagonist struggling to come to terms with who he is and why he is where he is.

I've never read anything by Henry David Thoreau, so reading the few snippets of his novel, Walden, was an interesting and unfamiliar ride. Armistead introduces Thoreau's book into the mix immediately and uses Walden as a guiding light for both the reader and Hank until the conclusion.

I can't help but think that Walden, from the quotes given in the novel, was the perfect choice for Hank's story. Thoreau's ghost forces Hank to live, explore, and see what he has lost without rushing him. He adds a depth to the story that any other amnesia novel may lack.

What I absolutely loved about Being Henry David was how focused the storyline was. Sure, Hank encounters friendship, danger, romance, and even unconventional familial attachments, but Armistead stays true to the story by having it centered around Hank.

Like any good novel, Hank learns from his experiences and grows as a misguided character, but at the end of the day, the story is about Hank--not about the girl(s) he meets, the dangers of homelessness, or the friendships he bonds.

Hank is running from something in his past and Armistead makes it impossible for you to forget his goals, even if Hank himself occasionally forgets--or tries to.

The pacing is wonderful and the conclusion does its job: it concludes with us learning what happened to Hank, who he is, and what he plans and/or hopes to do with this knowledge. It leaves questions, of course, but in a way, we're left just like Hank: with no certainty of what awaits us in the future.

Poignant and beautifully written, Being Henry David is a rare young adult novel that questions the power of the mind, the treacherous addiction we at times harbor for guilt, and the dangers we encounter when we try to escape our familiar worlds.

I recommend Being Henry David to readers of young adult contemporary fiction, lovers of story lines full of character growth, and of course, fans of Henry David Thoreau.
Profile Image for Debbie.
295 reviews127 followers
March 1, 2013
I don't understand how anyone could not love this book. The romance doesn't overpower the message the book is trying to get across nor does it stray. I could also relate to Hank as if he were an actual person, not just a character in a fictional story. Being Henry David touched my heart in a way that not very many have. I will forever cherish this book.

Of course the beginning is odd, it takes a few chapters for the story to really get its footing with an awkward writing style (at first) and a boring, too simplistic setting. But all of this changes near the middle. I thought Being Henry David was going to be like other books where the main protagonist meets this person who is crazy and wild and follows them around like a lost puppy like in 34 Pieces of You or Then You Were Gone. But it's not like that. Not at all. Not really.

There is just so much to love about this book. For one thing, I love the message it gives off because it really did make me tear up and feel a bunch of emotions. And it's true, the ones who care about you will always care, no matter what. Most of the characters are very easy to relate to and easy to love because as the story progresses, so do the characters and they become stronger and better people. I even loved to hate Magpie with his creepy eyes and accent. The relationship between Hank, Jack, and Nessa seems very realistic to me, another thing that really pulled at my heart. As a teen I know how it feels to be in a hopeless state and being forced to trust the ones you are uncertain of.

As the story progresses, Hank's memories start to come back to him. I like this part a lot because the memories are pretty stretched out which helps the book stay less predictable and is a lot more enjoyable this way. The love interest doesn't go from 'I think she's cute' on one page to, 'oh man, I'm in love' the next which saved me from wanting to throw the book out the window (yay!).

What an astonishing book this is! I would recommend this book to everyone. Because everyone has, during some time in their lifetime, wish they could live a different life, even just for a day. Being Henry David is just that, a teen wanting to start over only to realize that his life just might not suck.
Profile Image for Kristy Sartain.
501 reviews20 followers
November 27, 2012

It's refreshing to read a book from a male point of view. Henry's story is both heartbreaking and lifting at the same time. At times, I cried and didn't know if I was happy or sad for him.

Let me set the scene. A 17-ish year old boy wakes up to someone asking him if he's going to eat that. The boy has no idea who he is, where is, or how he got there. The only thing he has is $10 in his pocket and a well worn copy of Thoreau's Walden. The man asking him if he's going to eat that steals his book and runs off with it, sits down, and begins tearing the pages out to eat them. The boy is horrified and mad and draws the attention of a policeman, who takes the book back and gives it to the boy. The boy goes to the restroom to see what he looks like, thinking maybe that will trigger some sort of memory. He runs into Jack and makes up the name Henry David, from, you guessed it, Henry David Thoreau. Jack's story is also heartbreaking. He's a teenage runaway and decides Henry David is Hank, so that's the name he uses for the rest of the book (mostly, anyway).

I won't tell any more of the plot, because it's much better if you don't see what's coming. It's not all predictable, though some of it is. I will tell you to be on the lookout for a tattooed historian librarian because he totally makes the book. Partly because I'm a librarian and I wish my story was as cool as Thomas'.

I like the angle Armistead took for some of Hank's memories to resurface. The guitar playing was nice and a good bonding instrument (har de har har) for him and Thomas and some of the other characters.

I won't lie, there were some moments I had to walk away from the book because I was crying so hard, I couldn't read. When I say it is heartbreaking, I mean I could feel my heart hurt. It takes an amazing writer to give you that kind of feeling and then be able to lift you up like Armistead has done.

I will recommend this book to students who are going through a rough patch, who enjoy romance novels (even thought there's not a lot of romance, it is a book about relationships), and who enjoy sappy books.
Profile Image for Carmen.
2,066 reviews1,904 followers
April 29, 2015
This was a good book. It reminded me of the movie DANNY DECKCHAIR, because, in this book as well as in that movie, a man lands into a life that he creates for himself, falls in love, and defends his love from a jealous rival.

However, there is a big age difference. Danny in DANNY DECKCHAIR is running away from a bad marriage. He doesn't have amnesia and he lands in a new town, falls for the woman who rescues him (a police officer) and stuns the town with his new and bold ideas. Danny in Being Henry David is running away from something...but he doesn't know what. His memory is being violently guarded by a black beast. He doesn't know his name, where he comes from, who his family is, or anything. He also starts over in a new town, joining a Battle of the Bands and dating a local girl. She has a jealous ex-boyfriend/childhood friend and Danny goes all "Is this guy bothering you, Hailey?" on the dude.

He's also homeless. He tries sleeping in the woods, sleeping in the library, etc. but finally gets caught because he has an infection from a knife wound he got on the mean streets of NYC.

I like that Danny has a close relationship with nature. He uses nature to clear his head and think about things.

This book is a LITTLE cheesy - but just a little. You know...tattooed ex-con librarian with a heart of gold, good-looking teenager who runs, quotes Thoreau from memory and plays a mean guitar. Girl who is shy about singing onstage even though she is amazing because she had a bad past experience.

Danny treats his girl right, and I like that. He's respectful and caring and listens to her even though he's got tons of problems of his own. He stands up for her, tries to protect her, and always has her back. He's not pushy and let's her make her own decisions.

I liked the way this book came together. Danny piecing together pieces of his past. Danny learning about the dirty, desperate world of the homeless. Danny struggling to remember who he really is. Everything comes together nicely in the end. It is a happy ending, but not one that's too sappy.
Profile Image for Jenny - Book Sojourner.
1,391 reviews167 followers
June 6, 2013
The story we embark upon starts with "Hank" awaking at Penn Station with no memory of who he is and only the clothes he's wearing and a copy of Walden by his side. But he has this intuition that something is wrong and he's not ready to turn himself into the police as a missing person, which would obviously be the fastest way for him to figure out who he is. Instead he names himself Henry David, gets nicknamed as "Hank" by one of the interesting characters he meets, and starts this journey of discovery, meeting some good and bad characters along the way.

This journey also interweaves Thoreau's words of insight from Walden. Not being well-versed in all things Henry David Thoreau, I wasn't sure how well I would do with this book. I thought the way the author intermixed Walden was very creative and used in a very pertinent manner considering the circumstances that Hank faced, and really added a whole extra layer to the story that I really enjoyed. Despite never having read Walden myself, I never felt lost or disconnected from the story.

I also really enjoyed the "mystery" aspect of this story. I felt like I was right there with Hank trying to figure out who he was and why his memories were being blocked. I didn't expect this book to grip me the way it did, but I really wanted to know how things turned out for Hank and what really happened to him. I also loved how he had to grow in his character, beyond just finding out about himself, but who he wanted to be. He befriended others who helped him, and who he helped. The intermixing with secondary characters was well done, though I would have even liked more depth to them. I had a particular soft spot for Thomas.

Bottomline: This book went above my expectations and I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed not only the writing style and the characters, but the storytelling itself. This is a wonderful journey of self-discovery, seeking the truth, finding forgiveness, and embracing the future, whatever it may hold. The ending was touching, heartfelt, and realistic. A great debut by Cal Armistead.
Profile Image for Sheri (Tangled Up In Books).
470 reviews46 followers
March 14, 2016
Originally posted on my blog!! :) :)


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!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
451 reviews
February 12, 2017
A super YA book that is intelligent, relevant, and well-written (except for an overuse of the word "random" that drove me up a wall!) three qualities not often found in books of this genre. "Hank" wakes up in Penn Station with no memory of who he is. The only clue to his identity is a copy of Thoreau's "Walden" that he is carrying. After a difficult few days in NYC, he decides to escape to Concord, MA and see what HDT's words can reveal to him about his own life. As threads of memory start to emerge, hinting at a traumatic event that has shut his brain down, "Hank" decides to follow HDT's advice and seize the day. He finds benevolent Thomas, who also happens to be the research librarian in Concord, and Hailey, the prototypical Metrowest athlete-scholar. As he slowly regains his memory, he learns how to live a well-considered life, just as HDT did. Excellent--would like to add it to my curriculum.
Profile Image for Mary Wu.
30 reviews17 followers
May 30, 2013
I enjoyed this book, and read it rather quickly to find out who Henry David was (it really was a page turner).

I don't want to give my review though, I want to give the review for my 11 year old daughter. This is a middle school/young adult book, so let's see what that audience thinks.

Some of my friends know that it has been difficult to get my daughter interested in reading. She'll often pick up a book and read a chapter or two and declare it "boring."

The morning after I handed this book to my daughter I tried to wake her up for church, she looked EXHAUSTED and was dragging.

She had stayed up until 3 a.m. reading this book. My daughter who hates reading stayed up all night following Henry David.
Profile Image for Harumichi Mizuki.
1,275 reviews66 followers
July 13, 2018
Keren. Astaga. Haru dan Spring. Bagaimana mungkin semua terbitan kalian nggak ada yang mengecewakan. Dan aku jadi penasaran sama Thoreau. Kayak apa isi bukunya, ya? Plotnya bisa dibilang cukup rapi dalam menjaga alur misterinya, meskipun secara ajaib si tokoh utama tampaknya selalu berhasil mendapatkan semua yang dia butuhkan di sepanjang cerita. Mulai dari uang, baju ganti, sampai teman cewek yang bisa diajak main ngeband bareng. Beruntung sekali kau, Nak. Rezeki anak amnesia? XD
Profile Image for Jolene Perry.
Author 41 books855 followers
May 20, 2016
Fantastic book.
Great guy POV.
Excellent characterization and I never knew what was going to happen next.
LOVE the way this book wraps up - it's such a Jolene ending. Fantastic, w/ room for speculation...
Great read :-D
Profile Image for Zulfy Rahendra.
284 reviews56 followers
March 12, 2018
Melarikan diri sepertinya cara paling mudah buat menyelesaikan masalah ya? Orang bahkan pengen melarikan diri dari kenangan. Hank dan saya misalnya. Tapi ternyata, entah alam bawah sadar, atau moralitas diri, atau dorongan hati, pada akhirnya kita selalu menemukan cara buat kembali. Hank dihantui rasa bersalah karena sepotong ingatannya memberi tahu kalo adiknya dalam bahaya, sehingga dia memaksa menggali kembali masa lalunya. Saya sok tegar di luar, tapi masih suka mimpi nyelesein masalah sampe berantem dan bangun dalam keadaan gemetar marah.

Hank kabur dari kenangannya. Terbangun di tempat asing tanpa mengenal diri sendiri. Monster dalam dirinya menolak mengingat kenangan sebelum dia bangun di stasiun kereta.

Entah harus komen apa lagi soal buku ini. Bagus, ga bosenin, tapi rasanya ngga terlalu... mmm.. memorable. Cerita tentang seseorang yang masa lalunya terlalu buruk sampe dirinya sendiri membuat pertahanan diri dengan lupa sama kenangan. Cara berceritanya cukup misterius, menggali pelan-pelan apa yang terjadi sama Hank, kenapa ingatannya hilang, kenapa sebagian dari dirinya ga mau kenangannya kembali tapi sebagian lagi malah terus ngingetin dia soal kembali.

Ceritanya ngingetin saya ke buku A Monster Calls. Soal self defense yang menolak menghadapi kenyataan, tapi alam bawah sadar menolak lupa sama kenyataan. Jadinya rumit. Manusia emang rumit sih yha. Kalo di Monster Calls, 'hantu diri sendiri'-nya berupa monster pohon, di buku ini berupa Henry David Thoreau.

Pada akhirnya, tanpa bermaksud spoiler, Hank pun harus kembali buat menyelesaikan masalahnya. Seburuk apapun keadaannya, dia harus menghadapi masa lalunya. Karena my dear honeybee (sekarang tinggal bee-nya, nyengat nyakitin pengen ngegebah, honey-nya udah ilang digerus kesabaran), gimana juga masalah ya ga akan kelar kalo ditinggalin. Satu-satunya cara ya dihadapi. *ngomong sama seseorang* *dalam mimpi, tentu saja*
Profile Image for Jason Abdul.
Author 1 book17 followers
October 19, 2017
Entah karena jenis font dan layout halamannya atau apa pun, buku ini sangat gampang membuatku mengantuk. Akibatnya buku ini sempat terabaikan selama beberapa bulan. Hehehe.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
April 9, 2021
~1.5 stars~

Haha no 🖤

This book was absolute garbage. So many unnecessary events, unnecessary characters {Hailey and Cameron--what was your purpose? Why did you consume 50% of this book if you had nothing to contribute?} and the main character was a jerk. Hank knows he can't stay in Walden Pond, yet he leads Hailey on, he lies to everyone about who he is and in the end, he still expects Hailey to be his girlfriend? What a trashy move. Also, the scenes between those two just seemed so ridiculously forced, it was uncomfortable.

*Some spoilers from here on out, by the way*

Also, the Battle of the Bands! This event helped Hank remember he could play the guitar and spend time with Hailey, but it consumed so much of the book, kept Hank from going home when he discovered he was actually Danny and he didn't even win! Nothing was taken from the Battle of the Bands, except we now know Hank can play the guitar and he spent a lot of time with a girl that he ended up abandoning anyway.

Finally, the ending. There is so much I could say about this ending but I'm just going to say it was very very poorly planned. From about the 33% mark, the entire book slowed down and nothing happened until the last few chapters The author tried to fit the BOTB, reuniting with Jack and Nessa, getting Hank home AND figuring out the last details of Hank's life in about 30 pages {3 chapters}. This left me with many questions and so many things didn't line up. Why? Because you can't fit that much in 30 pages--it seems as though it wasn't planned out at all and written with such little effort.

This book started out great but descended after Hank left Penn Station. Want my advice? Don't read this book if you want clear endings.
Profile Image for Colette Whitney.
26 reviews24 followers
November 13, 2012
Call me crazy, but I definitely thought that Being Henry David was a fantasy sci-fi type of book. You could imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a tragic hero/coming-of-age novel. I thought for sure that at some point he would realize that he was a time-traveler or an alien or, like, a robot. What I mean is that I didn’t expect this story. I didn’t foresee Hank’s path. I liked that about this book.

So Hank wakes up in New York with a copy of Walden by Henry David Thoreau. So naturally, he finds his way to Walden pond and that’s where everything goes down. I shan’t spoil it for you, in the hopes that you, one day, decide to live deliberately, and choose to begin that journey with Armistead’s fab book (and then you should probably read Walden, seeing as that basically spells out what it means to live simply).

It occurred to me a couple pages in that, to me at least, many YA books are written with girls in mind. Let’s face it, the YA fiction audience is a whole lot of girls. Being Henry David, on the other hand, seems like it was written with a boy in mind. Maybe I only think that because I’m not accustomed to phrases like “my left nut” or maybe I’m just too close-minded. Either way, I loved Hank’s voice and I enjoyed being in his head, even though he’s confused and sad and scared. He offered an entirely new perspective, and that’s what literature is about- helping you better understand the human experience.

But back to the book, Hank’s story is a refreshing one, and adding the unnecessary spin of the transcendentalists really makes it more interesting to read. Armistead totally could have written Hank’s story without the whole Thoreau/Walden aspect, but I’m glad he did as it put a new face to Thoreau and it made the story much more salient and beautiful.

Many scenes are stressful and scary and fast-paced and sometimes that can be hard to portray in a book. You’re not seeing the tension on someone’s face, you’re reading about it. But Armistead wrote these scenes almost entirely out of short and blunt sentences. Often, they were one word, or they didn’t have a subject. Here’s an example; “Tried to sleep on the bus, resting my head on the backpack, but that didn’t work.” It was sentence structures like that that really added to the tension and anxiety of the story, and I thought that was an effective writing method. It kept me hooked, at least.

On the other hand, I wasn’t too fond of the plethora of story lines. There were just too many. I think he could have cut out whole characters and the book would have been better. Maybe if he was writing a 500 page book it would have worked out, but 270 pages is limiting. And it was a bummer, too, because I thought all the characters and story lines were really good, but he didn’t do them justice because he didn’t have enough time. There were so many that I felt like he was loosely tying them up at the end of the story, rather than double-knotting them, secure and tight. I think that if you’re going to get me attached to a character, give her a proper ending, don’t just sort of write her off and basically tell me, “That’s resolved, onto ending the next story line”. I mean, come on, my heart is breaking over here because of this one aspect of your novel and you’re not even going to give me a beat to catch my breath. I’m not sure if this paragraph makes sense. Hopefully, you understand.

All in all though, the parts of the book that I liked, I loved. It’s about a boy who loves too much and tries too hard and has a sad and tumultuous life. Hank’s rediscovery of himself is told through an honest and real voice. Armistead carefully depicts what it’s like to just completely lose it, and the struggle to regain consciousness and to find your grip on your own life. At some point in your life, you have to confront yourself with who you are, what you’ve done and what you’re going to do about it, and Armistead attempts to explain one person’s ways of doing so, as deliberately as possible. Thoreau’s philosophy rings loud and clear in this book, and proves that sometimes, you have to go off into the woods to discover what it means to live.
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