Estelle: Being Henry David by Cal Armistead

Being Henry David by Cal ArmisteadBeing Henry David by Cal Armistead ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
Pages: 312
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Walden, amnesia, on the run
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley! (Thanks!)

Summary: “Hank” wakes up to find himself in New York City without any knowledge of who he is and where he has come from. His only possessions are the clothes on his back, 10 bucks, a head wound, and a copy of Walden. His time in NYC is short-lived when a midadventure forces him to run off yet again to the only place he can think of — Walden Pond. Will it hold the answers of who he is and what he’s been through?

Having spent many many grueling hours in Penn Station myself, I would not wish for anyone to wake up there. Much less, wake up there and not know who they are and where they are from.

In the case of a 17-year old kid with amnesia, debut young adult writer Armistead knows how to keep her readers guessing. I felt just as discombobulated and lost as Hank did for a majority of the book. Slowly, she would unveil some memories we would have to file away and save for another time. What if Hank never found out who he was?

For awhile, I thought that’s where Being Henry David was leading. Hank carried Henry David Thoreou’s Walden like a Bible, and used it to find his way… somewhere. He didn’t have much of a choice. And for whatever reason (fate? luck?) he lands in Concord and comes into contact with some genuine, wonderful people and starts to make a place of his own — despite the mystery that still continues to irk him. As someone who hasn’t read Thoreau, I thought the author did a wonderful job of capturing the essense of nature and the importance of living in the moment. Her language was truly beautiful and it was no wonder why Hank was able to find comfort in Thoreou’s words and philosophies.

As Hank’s old life comes into focus though, I couldn’t help but think the author gave him a bit too much of damage to deal with. I don’t want to spoil, but when/if you read it, there are two events that truly affect his family in horrific ways, and I wish she would have limited it to just one. It was a little overzealous and added too much weight to a story that already spanned many settings, various characters, and explored a ton of conflict.

That being said, I really did find myself rooting for Hank. He was resourceful, funny, loyal, and when he got the opportunity to act like his true teenaged self, I just wanted to hug him. At the same time, he was able to showcase such fortitude and independence, and give into his vulnerabilities. I so wanted for him to come to terms with his past and be able to move forward, even though I never knew what that would entail.

Being Henry David is a very unique title in the young adult genre, and for that I am grateful. Armistead weaves in the Thoreau influence in a sophisticated way without making the book feel pretentious. It’s almost like the power of literature brought Thoreau and Hank together: each searching for their own peace and meeting somewhere in the middle.

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Estelle: When Love Comes to Town by Tom Lennon

When Love Comes to Town by Tom LennonLove Comes to Town by Tom Lennon
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen
Pages: 304
Audience: Young adult
Keywords: Dublin, senior year, gay teenager
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Neil is about to turn 18 and graduate from high school in 1990s Dublin. He’s friends with people he’s known since he was a kid, he’s a celebrated rubgy player, and his niece and nephew adore him. But for many years now, he’s been harboring the secret that he is gay. As much as he has tried to ignore it, the truth continues to plague him and he wonders if he can trust those closest to him with his deepest secret.

With a title like this When Love Comes to Town, I was really hoping for a love story. Instead, I received a deep analysis in the very troubled psyche of Neil, a young man who seemed to totally accept himself one minute and be ready to throw in the towel the next.

Who could blame him? He was living in a very close-minded circle of treasured friends and even family who would not accept homosexuals. Neil couldn’t stand the pressure of keeping secrets from everyone he knew, but he was also filled with such fear of how his own truths would affect life as he knew it.

I really felt for Neil, as he dedicated so much of his time watching old family movies and wishing so hard to be that little boy who was close to his parents without the “invisible barriers” created by who he has discovered himself to be. Neil brought to the forefront a very scary concern: the idea that our parents don’t know who we really are and that maybe, just maybe, they know and want to pretend otherwise. Isn’t that one of the loneliest realizations?

Even when dispersed between Neil’s newly discovered friends, ventures into the gay nightclub scene, and affection for a certain boy named Ian, the heavy stuff in When Love Comes to Town only seems to get heavier when the opportunity presents itself: AIDs, rejection, bullying, and loss in many different degrees.

Still Neil cannot experience the lowest of lows without the occasion highs that come in the form of an accepting female best friend, great music lyrics, and even the comfort of knowing that his religion will hold him tight, even when it seems like an impossibility. When Love Comes to Town felt like a prelude to other wonderful books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in the past year like J.H. Trumble’s Don’t Let Me Go + Where You Are, as well as Kirstin Cronn-Mills’ Beautiful Music for Ugly Children. Though the struggles these characters face are along the same lines, have things indeed improved in the years since When Love Comes to Town was released in Ireland?

I’d like to think so, I really would. I’d also like to think, 25 years later, older and wiser, Neil is somewhere happy and warm and wholeheartedly loved.

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