When Hank wakes up in Penn Station, the only clue to his identity is the book he’s clutching, Walden, so he adopts Henry David Thoreau’s name and iconic work to guide him on his journey to self-discovery.
After a stabbing ends his brief stint as a homeless teen, Hank flees to Walden Pond, where he meets Thomas, a gentle park docent, and bonds with a girl, gifted singer Hailey. His festering knife wound forces him to confide in Thomas and accept help, but Hank's pleasant discoveries (he’s good-looking, a runner and a musician) are overshadowed by returning memories that evoke dread and shame. What’s driven him, Hank realizes, is desperation to escape his past, not to recover it. Accepting and moving on is hard for Hailey, too; she is afraid to enter a band competition since her last experience ended badly. Thomas, who’s made peace with his own closet skeletons, mentors Hank but can’t spare him the tough choice: whether to keep running or face the music. Hank earns sympathy and respect from readers, but Armistead doesn’t let him off easy. Rescue is not an option, but Thoreau’s spare words, focusing on what truly matters, lighten the darkness.
This compelling, suspenseful debut, a tough-love riff on guilt, forgiveness and redemption, asks hard questions to which there are no easy answers. (Fiction. 13 & up)