This review can also be read in the Canon City Daily Record.
Warning ... this book is not for the faint of heart. It is gritty, raw, and honest. There are words and situations that may be triggering and/or offensive to some. Having said this, I highly recommend "Ten Thousand Saints" by Eleanor Henderson, an unconventional coming of age tale not yet told. Nine years in the making, it is thorough, highly detailed and filled with fantastic imagery.
"Ten Thousand Saints" is a no holds barred examination of the straight edge punk scene, 1988, New York. Yet it begins in a small Vermont town with two teenage boys, close friends, brought closer by their sense of loneliness and longing, soothed only by recreational drug use. Jude and Teddy meet Eliza, the daughter of Jude's father's girlfriend, and a New Year's Eve party goes wrong - very wrong. Tragedy strikes leaving Teddy dead from a drug overdose. Jude searches out Teddy's brother, Johnny, in New York City, settles there, and begins to follow a new lifestyle: no drugs, no sex, no alcohol, meat or cigarettes. Young Eliza finds herself tangled and enmeshed in the grieving lives of Jude and Johnny.
Unsentimental, this novel is "West Side Story" meets "Catcher in the Rye." There is intense emotion and fast-paced action, addressing many universal themes and dicey topics. Here children are on the cusp of adulthood, living adult lives and making adult decisions, from only the lessons of childhood. In the face of their parents' mistakes, these teens try to do differently, and, oddly enough, find themselves often in the same boat. History repeats itself, just putting on a new coat for each rising generation.
Ms. Henderson's ability to read and share the thoughts of her characters is masterful. We are drawn to those we meet in these pages. This book explores the fragility of the human soul, regardless of life choices. In these pages, we come face-to-face with AIDS, homelessness, abandonment, homosexuality, drugs, drinking, teen sex, death, adoption, abortion, punk music, friendship, love, parenthood, children's rights, marriage, divorce, religion, fatherhood, motherhood, fetal alcohol syndrome, bullies, and revenge. But don't let that keep you from this story.
I invite you to read with compassion and suspend the judgment our everyday lives seem to demand. Recognize that people who are quite different than us still have the same dilemmas - when is a child an adult, and when is an adult finally grown-up? How does one pull life back into a place of sense when choices are made, often in error, by ourselves or others? Through this tale, we develop a new vocabulary that crosses the lines of comfort and creates empathy.
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