2011 New York Times Top 100 Notable Books
Synopses & Reviews
Adopted by a pair of diehard hippies, restless, marginal Jude Keffy-Horn spends much of his youth getting high with his best friend, Teddy, in their bucolic and deeply numbing Vermont town. But when Teddy dies of an overdose on the last day of 1987, Jude's relationship with drugs and with his parents devolves to new extremes. Sent to live with his pot-dealing father in New York City's East Village, Jude stumbles upon straight edge, an underground youth culture powered by the paradoxical aggression of hardcore punk and a righteous intolerance for drugs, meat, and sex.
With Teddy's half brother, Johnny, and their new friend, Eliza, Jude tries to honor Teddy's memory through his militantly clean lifestyle. But his addiction to straight edge has its own dangerous consequences. While these teenagers battle to discover themselves, their parents struggle with this new generation's radical reinterpretation of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll and their grown-up awareness of nature and nurture, brotherhood and loss.
Moving back and forth between Vermont and New York City, Ten Thousand Saints is an emphatically observed story of a frayed tangle of family members brought painfully together by a death, then carried along in anticipation of a new and unexpected life. With empathy and masterful skill, Eleanor Henderson has conjured a rich portrait of the modern age and the struggles that unite and divide generations.
"Henderson debuts with a coming-of-age story set in the 1980s that departs from the genre's familiar tropes to find a panoramic view of how the imperfect escape from our parents' mistakes makes (equally imperfect) adults of us. Jude Keffy-Horn and Teddy McNicholas are drug-addled adolescents stuck in suburban Vermont and dreaming of an escape to New York City. But after Teddy dies of an overdose, Jude makes good on their dream and forms a de facto family with Teddy's straight-edge brother, Johnny; Jude's estranged pot-farmer father, Lester; and the troubled Eliza Urbanski, who may be carrying Teddy's child. What results is an odyssey encompassing the age of CBGB, Hare Krishnas, zines, and the emergence of AIDS. Henderson is careful, amid all this youthy nostalgia, not to sideline the adults, who look upon the changing fashions with varying levels of engagement. Still, the narrative occasionally teeters into a didactic, researched tone that may put off readers to whom the milieu isn't new but the commitment to its characters and jettisoning of hayseed-in-the-city cliche distinguish a nervy voice adept at etching the outlines of a generation, its prejudices and pandemics, and the idols killed along the way. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“Eleanor Henderson is in possession of an enormous talent which she has matched up with skill, ambition, and a fierce imagination. The resulting novel, Ten Thousand Saints, is the best thing I’ve read in a long time.” Ann Patchett, bestselling author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder
"On Aug. 6, 1988, a collection of squatters, anarchists and youths took over Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan's East Village to protest a new 1 a.m. curfew. By the time the fated hour rolled around, the gathering had turned violent as police attempted to shut down the park. The crowd was there to protect a neighborhood where, as Eleanor Henderson puts it in Ten Thousand Saints
, 'there were shadows to hide in. Here you didn't advertise being gay or straight or rich or poor; you just tried not to get your ass kicked.' Injuries and reports of police brutality abounded." Phoebe Connelly, NPR
(Read the entire NPR review
A sweeping, multigenerational drama, set against the backdrop of the raw, roaring New York City during the late 1980s, Ten Thousand Saints triumphantly heralds the arrival a remarkable new writer.
About the Author
Eleanor Henderson earned her MFA from the University of Virginia in 2005. Her story "The Farms" was selected by Alice Sebold for The Best American Short Stories 2009. Henderson's fiction has also appeared in Agni, North American Review, Ninth Letter, and Columbia, among other publications. Her nonfiction has appeared in Poets & Writers, where she was a contributing editor, and Virginia Quarterly Review, where she was the chair of the fiction board. An assistant professor at Ithaca College, she lives in Ithaca, New York.