“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
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. Eleanor Henderson makes a truly stunning debut with a novel that is part coming of age, part coming to terms, immediately joining the ranks of The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud and Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. Adoption, teen pregnancy, drugs, hardcore punk rock, the unbridled optimism and reckless stupidity of the young—and old—are all major elements in this heart-aching tale of the son of diehard hippies and his strange odyssey through the extremes of late 20th century youth culture.
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About the Author
Eleanor Henderson was born in Greece, grew up in Florida, and attended Middlebury College and the University of Virginia. Her debut novel, Ten Thousand Saints, was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2011 by the New York Times and a finalist for the Award for First Fiction from the Los Angeles Times and was adapted into a film in 2015. An associate professor at Ithaca College, she lives in Ithaca, New York, with her husband and two sons.
Read an Excerpt
Ten Thousand Saints
By Eleanor Henderson
EccoCopyright © 2012 Eleanor Henderson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIs it dreamed?" Jude asked Teddy. "Or dreamt?"
Beneath the stadium seats of the football field, on the last
morning of 1987 and the last morning of Teddy's life, the
two boys lay side by side, a pair of snow angels bundled in
thrift store parkas. If you were to spy them from above, between the
slats of the bleachers - or smoking behind the school gym, or sliding
their skateboards down the stone wall by the lake - you might
confuse one for the other. But Teddy was the dark haired one, Jude
the redhead. Teddy wore opalescent, fat-tongued Air Jordans, both
toes bandaged with duct tape, and dangling from a cord around his
neck, a New York City subway token, like a golden quarter. Jude
was the one in Converse high-tops, the stars Magic Markered into
pentagrams, and he wore his red hair in a devil lockshort in the
back and long in the front, in a fin that sliced between his eyes to
his chin. Unless you'd heard of the Misfits, not the Marilyn Monroe
movie but the horror-rock/glam-punk band, and if you were living
in Lintonburg, Vermont, in 1987, you probably hadn't, you'd never
seen anything like it.
"Either," said Teddy.
They were celebrating Jude's sixteenth birthday with the dregs
of last night's bowl. Jude leaned over and tapped the crushed soda
can against Teddy's elbow, and Teddy sat up to take his turn. His
eyes were glassy, and a maple leaf, brittle and threadbare from its
months spent under the snow, clung to his hair. Since Jude had
known him Teddy had worn an immense pair of bronze frames with
lenses as thick as windowpanes and, for good measure, a second bar
across the top. But last week Teddy had spent all his savings on a
pair of contact lenses, and now Jude thought he looked mole-eyed
and barefaced, exposed, as Jude's father had the time he'd made the
mistake of shaving his beard.
With one hand Teddy balanced the bud on the indentation of
the can, over the perforations Jude had made with a paper clip, lit
it with the other, and like a player of some barnyard instrument, he
put his lips to the mouth of the can and inhaled. Across his face,
across the shadowed expanse of snow stubbled grass, bars of sunlight
brightened and then paled. "It's done," he announced and
tossed the can aside.
Bodies had begun to fill the grandstand above, galoshes and
duck boots filing cautiously down the rows, families of anoraks
eclipsing the meager sun. Jude could hear the patter of their voices,
the faraway din of a sound system testing, testing, the players cleating
through the grass, praying away the snow. Standing on his
wobbly legs, Jude examined their cave. They were fenced in on all
sides - the seats overhead, the football field in front, a concrete wall
behind them. Above the wall, however, was a person-size perimeter
of open space, through which Teddy and Jude had climbed not
long before, first launching their skateboards in ahead of them, then
scaling the scaffoolding on the outside, then tumbling over the wall,
catlike, ten feet into the dirt. They'd done it twenty times before, but
never while people were in the stadium - they'd managed to abstain
from their town's tepid faith in its Division III college football team;
they abstained from all things football, and all things college. They
hadn't expected there to be a game on New Year's Eve.
Now Jude paced under the seats and stopped five or six rows
from the front. Above him, hanging from the edge of one of the
seats, was a pair of blue-jeaned legs. A girl. Jude could see the dirty
heels of her tennis shoes, but not much else. He reached up, the
frozen fingers through his fingerless gloves inches away from her
foot, but instead of enclosing them around the delicate bones of her
ankle, he lifted the yellow umbrella at her feet. He slid it without a
sound across the concrete and down into his arms.
"What are you doing?" whispered Teddy, suddenly at Jude's
elbow. "Why are we stealing an umbrella?"
Jude sprung it open and looked it over. "It's not the umbrella
we're stealing," he whispered back, closing it. Walking into the
shadows a few rows back, he held it over his head, curved handle
up, like a hook. In the bleachers above, there were purses between
feet, saving seats, unguarded, alone, and inside, wallets fat with cash.
Teddy and Jude had no money and no pot and, since this morning,
nothing to smoke it out of but an empty can of Orange Slice.
Last night they'd shared a jug of Carlo Rossi and the pot they'd
found in the glove box of Teddy's mom's car, while they listened
to Metallica's first album, Kill 'Em All, which skipped, and to Teddy's
mom, Queen Bea, who had her own stash of booze, getting
sick in the bathroom, retch, flush, retch, flush. Around midnight,
they'd taken what was left of the pot and skated to Jude's to get
some sleep, but in their daze had left Jude's bong behind. When
they returned to Teddy's in the morning (this was the rhythm of
their days, three rights and a left to Teddy's, a right and three lefts
to Jude's), the bong - the color changing Pyrex bong Jude's mother
had given Jude that morning as an early birthday giftwas gone. So
were Queen Bea's clothes, her car, her toothbrush, her sheets. Jude
and Teddy wandered the house, flipping switches. The lights didn't
work; nothing hummed or blinked. The house was frozen with an
unnatural stillness. Jude, shivering, found a candle and lit it. When
Teddy opened the liquor cabinet, it was also emptythis was the
final, irrefutable clueexcept for a bottle of Liquid Plumerand a film
of dust, in which Teddy wrote with a finger, fuck.
Beatrice McNicholas had run away a few times before. She'd go
out for a six pack and come home a week later, with a new haircut
and old promises. (She was no nester or nurturer; she was Queen
Bea for her royal size.) But she'd never taken her liquor with her, or
anything of Teddy and Jude's.
The boys had stolen enough from her over the years to call it
even. Five dollar bills, maybe tens, that Queen Bea would be too
drunk to miss in the morning, liquor, cigarettes. She was the kind
of unsystematic drunk whose hiding places changed routinely but
remained routinely unimaginative - ten minutes of hunting through
closets and drawers (she cleaned other people's houses, but her own
was a sty) could almost always turn up something. Pot was more
difficult to find at Jude's house - his mom's hippie habits were somewhat
reformed, and though she condoned Jude's experimentation
(an appreciation for a good bong was just about all Harriet and Jude
had in common), occasional flashes of parental guilt drove her to
hide her contraband in snug and impenetrable places that recalled
Russian nesting dolls. In Harriet's studio, Jude had once found a
Ziploc of pot inside a bag of Ricola cough drops inside a jumbo box
of tampons inside a toolbox. While Queen Bea seemed only mildly
aware that teenagers lived in her midst, sweeping them off her porch
like stray cats, Harriet had a sharp eye, a peripheral third lens in her
bifocals that was always ready to probe the threat of fast fingered
boys. So Jude and Teddy stole what was around: a roll of quarters
from her dresser, the box of chocolates Jude's sister, Prudence,
had given her for Mother's Day. They took more pleasure in what
they stole out in the world: magazines and beer from Shop Smart
(Shop Fart), video game cartridges from Sears (Queers), and
cassettes from the Record Room, where Kram O'Connor and Clarence
Delph worked. And half the items in Jude's possession - clothes,
records, homework - were stolen, without discretion, from Teddy.
But this bold-faced thievery beneath the bleachers embarrassed
Teddy. It was so obvious, so doomed to failure. Sometimes Teddy
thought that was the prize Jude wanted - not the money or the beer
or the cigarettes but the confrontation, the pleasure of testing the
limits. Jude was standing on tiptoe, umbrella still raised like a torch,
eyeing the spilled contents of a lady's bag. His tongue, molluscan
and veined with blue, was wedged in concentration in the cleft
under his nose.
"Hey," said someone.
Teddy tried to stand very still.
A pair of eyes, upside-down, was framed between the seats above
them. It took Teddy a few seconds to grasp their orientation - the
girl was leaning over, her head draped over the ledge. "What are you
doing?" she said.
Jude smiled up at her. "You dropped your umbrella."
"No, I didn't." The girl had her hands cupped around her eyes
now, staring down into the dark. No one else seemed to notice.
"It fell," Jude insisted, hoisting the umbrella up to the girl, his
arm outstretched, letting it tickle one of her fingers.
"Just give it back," said Teddy. It was the way Jude always made
him feeltangled up in some stupid, trivial danger. Teddy closed
his eyes. He didn't have time to mess around; his mother was gone.
He needed money, more money than Jude could pickpocket with
an umbrella. His body clenched with his last memory of her - the
acrid, scotch-y stink of her vomit through the bathroom door; the
blathering hiccups of her sobs. Had she been crying because she
was leaving, or just because she was wasted?
Then the umbrella, the pointy part, speared him in the gut.
"Ow, man." Teddy opened his eyes.
"You were supposed to catch it," said Jude.
Teddy looked up into the bleachers. The girl was gone. But
a moment later, a pair of blue-jeaned legs appeared over the wall
They watched as the girl jumped from the ledge, her jacket parachuting
as she plummeted. She landed feet first and fell forward to
catch her balance, then strutted a slow motion, runway strut in their
direction. She stopped a car length away and stood with her hands
on her hips, inspecting them. Her eyes were shining with disdain.
If you were a girl, Jude Keffy-Horn was a person you looked at,
hard, and then didn't look at again. His blue eyes, set wide apart,
watched the world from under hooded lids, weighed down by
distrust, THC, and a deep, hormonal languor. A passing stranger
would not have guessed them to be the eyes of a hyperactive teenager
with attention deficit disorder, but his mouth, which rarely rested,
betrayed him. He was thin in the lip, fairly broad in the forehead, tall
and flat in the space between mouth and upturned nose, the whole
plane of his face scattered with freckles usurped daily by a lavender
brand of acne. He wore not one but two retainers. He wasn't tall,
but he was built like a tall person, with skinny arms and legs and big
knees and elbows that knocked around when he walked. He wasn't
bad looking. He was good looking enough. He was the kid whose
name you knew only because the teacher kept calling it. Jude. Jude.
Mr. Keffy-Horn, is that a cigarette you're rolling?
Teddy shared Jude's uniform, his half swallowed smirk, but due
to the blood of his Indian father (Queen Bea was purebred white
trash), his hair was the blue-black of comic book villains, his
complexion as dark and smooth as a brown eggshell. By the population
of Ira Allen High School he was rumored halfheartedly to be Jewish,
Arab, Mexican, Greek, and most often, simply "Spanish." When
Jude had asked, Teddy had told him "Indian," then quipped, nearly
indiscernibly, for he was a mumbler, "Gandhi, not Geronimo." With
everyone else, though, he preferred to allow his identity to flourish in
the shadowed domain of myth. Teddy's eyelashes were long, like the
bristles of a paintbrush; through his right eyebrow was an ashen scar
from the time he'd spilled off his skateboard at age ten. Then his face
had been cherubic; now, at fifteen, it had sloughed off the baby fat
and gone angular as a paper airplane. He had a delicate frame; he had
an Adam's apple like a brass knuckle; he had things up the sleeve of
that too big coat - a Chinese star, the wire of a Walkman, a cigarette
for after class, which he was always more careful than Jude to conceal.
What's that kid up to?
That was the way the girl was looking at both of them now, under
the bleachers. "What are you people doing down here?"
Jude stabbed the umbrella into the ground. "Hanging out."
"Are you smoking marijuana?"
"You can't smell it," Jude said. "We're out in the open."
"Can I have my umbrella, please?"
"Why? It's not raining."
"It's supposed to snow, for your information."
"Oh, for my information, okay. It's a snow umbrella." Now he
was pretending that the umbrella was a gun. He held it cocked at his
hip, the metal tip against his cheek, ready to shoot around a corner.
"Jude," Teddy said. "Over here."
He clapped his hands, and Jude obediently, joyfully tossed him
"Motherfucking monkey in the middle!" said Jude.
Teddy walked three paces toward the girl, head down, and
returned it to her.
Excerpted from Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson Copyright © 2012 by Eleanor Henderson. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“I loved TEN THOUSAND SAINTS; again and again I was stopped cold by beautiful chapter-ending sentences. I remember this Manhattan, the Sunday matinees at CB’s, the rage over Yuppies colonizing the East Village. ”
“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. “
“Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire.... She is never ironic or underwhelmed; her preferred mode is fierce, devoted and elegiac.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When I first started reading this book, I didn't think I would get through it because I didn't relate to the types of kids the story focussed on. I was never into weed. Had never heard of Straightedge. The whole lifestyle was foreign to me. That said--if you are someone like me, I highly suggest you persist with the story. I was amazed how I came to relate to so many of the characters, actually care about them. This was a well written story and so far from the "same old thing." I will look for more from this writer.
The first 100 pages were just a little too bland for me to get into. I usually stop reading a book, by page 75, if it can't catch my attention. I don't know if this is because I came out of the punk scene and had experiences that I could compare this book to. My husband was one of the people in the acknowledgement section, so he really wanted me to see what I thought of this (I also read about a book a day, so it made sense.) I just had a real heard time trying to relate to the characters or to even understand where the story line was going. The book eventually picks up, but I felt like I was just trying to get through it, since I had time already invested into it. I wish the author much luck with future projects! And I do mean it, it is not sarcastic in any way...
This book is eloquently written about loss and redemption in the lives of misfit, young adults who desperately want to find their place in society. The author hits on several issues- drug abuse, teen pregnancy, AIDS, and homosexuality.
A lot of people come of age in this novel, not just the teenagers at the center of the story. I enjoyed reading about worlds I did not know-- I don't even know if the names of these hard edge music groups were real-- but I felt as though I could smell and hear the environments. The characters were fully drawn and sympathetic, even when they were irritating (like your own teenagers). I love these NookBook Daily Finds and Free Fridays-- I end up reading a lot of books I would not have otherwise discovered.
I really liked this book; however character building gets a little old. Could have been a little shorter. Not too sure about the ending.
I agree with others that this book had a slow start, but it does pick up and the characters become very engaging. Growing up in Burlington, VT, it was fun to read about the area. I reccomend this book. It is very well written.
I have only read the sample. i am 55 and can very much relate to the times. i am looking forward to a new experience.
Great book, i was a little miffed at the ending otherwise it would have received five stars.
You really feel for each character in this book. <3
This author is highly talented. It is wonderful to read a book you don't want to put down.
A story that sticks with you. Its characters are imperfect and deeply affecting. Remarkably, the character who dies on the story's first day is so well drawn that he stays alive in a way, not only for his young friends, but for the reader. His loss hovers over the storyAnd the story itself is a thoughful exploration of adolescents and their parents, in a setting of hardcore music, drugs and the early days of the AIDS crisis. Its sense of time and place is perfect: if you were young in the late 1980s, this book will bring you back.It is a long book. The tempo drags in spots. And the author occasionally drops certain threads of the story that she spent a long time developing, most crucially a main character's possible Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. But these are in the end nits. It is an impressive novel, with beautiful writing.
Eleanor Henderson¿s debut novel Ten Thousand Saints is set in the late 1980s and moves between small-town Vermont and New York City¿s Lower East Side. The topics range from gentrification, hardcore punk, drugs, death, teen pregnancy, sexuality, AIDS, straight edge culture, family dysfunction, misguided loyalty, and generation gaps. Needless to say it¿s an ambitious debut novel. The novel begins-"Beneath the stadium seats of the football field, on the last morning of 1987 and the last morning of Teddy¿s life, the two boys lay side by side, a pair of snow angels bundled in thrift-store parkas. If you were to spy them from above, between the slats of the bleachers¿or smoking behind the school gym, or sliding their skateboards down the stone wall by the lake¿you might confuse one for the other. But Teddy was the dark-haired one, Jude the redhead." Teddy and Jude are the stereotypical small-town misfits in the late 1980s. Their families are dysfunctional. Their fathers are painfully absent. They¿re bored and constantly looking for highs. "Last night they¿d shared a jug of Carlo Rossi and the pot they¿d found in the glove box of Teddy¿s mom¿s car, while they listened to Metallica¿s first album, Kill `Em All, which skipped, and to Teddy¿s mom, Queen Bea, who had her own stash of booze, getting sick in the bathroom, retch, flush, retch, flush." Henderson spends the first fifty pages or so building this relationship between the two boys. Jude is brash and stupid, looking for confrontation and escape, and Teddy is his lovable sidekick, quietly wondering if he can rebuild a relationship with his brother and find his father. He is secretly planning to leave and go to New York. And then Teddy dies. Teddy¿s death is the impetus for the rest of the novel and eventually, Jude¿s coming-of-age. Much is done in Teddy¿s name, though the characters are so flawed, it¿s hard to tell if they are being genuine or if they are just clinging to anything that may have a little meaning. The frustrating absurdity of teenage logic may put some readers off, though Henderson captures it perfectly.For example, take this stream of thought from Eliza, who is pregnant with Teddy¿s baby: "She had wanted to make something happen; she had asked for heartbreak and she¿d gotten it. And it was bigger than anything in her life. She wanted to forget Teddy, and she wanted something to remember him by.She was aware of this paradox in a subliminal way, and of Johnny¿s and Jude¿s part in it. She wanted to know them, too; she wanted to forget them. She tried hard to drown them out. She ignored the blank page of her underwear¿"Jude makes the pilgrimage to New York that Teddy wanted to make. He becomes a passionate recruit of the straight-edge punk scene and forms a proxy family with Teddy¿s brother and Eliza. Family is a strong theme throughout the book. Among all the teenage angst and tribalism, Henderson captures the grown-ups too. Jude¿s mom is the most realized of the bunch, as she struggles with her mistakes as a parent. She wants to reconcile, but feels hopeless. "Harriet watched the boys come and go. From the basement to the van, from Jude¿s room to the fridge. She listened for them on the stairs, on the fire escape, to the ring of the phone and the drone of their showers and puerile wail of their guitars. She observed Jude¿s romance with straight edge as she might have observed his first love¿warily, with a mother¿s pride, hoping that, in the end his heart wouldn¿t break too hard." Jude¿s pot-dealing father and Eliza¿s wealthy mother also play significant parts throughout the book. I have to say I was predisposed to like the novel simply because I can relate to it so much. I grow up during this time period playing in a band traveling up and down I-95. I knew kids who were eerily similar to these characters. It¿s obvious that Henderson did her research for the book. She recreates the time and place with precision, but I imagine the detail
A lovely, intensely observed, thoughtful novel. However, it made me want to just take its lost and wounded protagonists home and make them eat a nice bowl of soup and put them to bed early...
Truth is, it seems a little long before it's over, and a few of the main characters never really take off. But it's a big, old-fashioned novel at heart, even if it is about the straight-edge music scene of the late 80s. You get a touch of the mindless violence associated with that, plus the earlier days of the AIDS epidemic and the rattiness of NYC during the period. Weirdly, it's something of a historical novel, and for me slightly more satisfying than A Visit From the Goon Squad. (Though they make good companion pieces.)
This novel, for the most part, reflects the zeitgeist of mid-to-late 1980¿s New York City, and more specifically the developing straight edge/hard core scene. However, this is just the backdrop for the real meat of the book which is teenage angst in all its glory. The plot involves the poor choices of two best friends, Jude and Teddy, and a visiting daughter of the girlfriend of Jude¿s long-gone adoptive father. It only gets more complicated as the narrative examines the life-altering consequences of their actions on a myriad of other loosely-connected people. Among the casualties the author makes clear that adults don¿t fare any better, morally or ethically, they just have more skills, more money, and more connections to ease their pain. A gritty book to read with no rose-colored glasses provided.
I had heard good things about this book, but wasn't sure I'd be interested in the coming-of-age story of straight edge teens in the late 1980s New York City. Boy, was I wrong.Henderson has such compassion for her characters- Jude, the drug-using boy in love with a girl who slept with his best friend Teddy, Eliza, the lost rich girl with a secret, Johnny, Teddy's straight edge musician brother hiding from himself- that you feel like you know these people and care deeply about what happens to them. Even Teddy, who only exists for 72 pages yet whose presence influences all of the main characters, is so vivid, I felt I knew him well.The minor characters are well drawn too; I particularly liked Jude's estranged father who left his family behind years ago, and although he faithfully sent support checks, checked out of his son and daughter's emotional life. Henderson has created this world that I had no idea about, the straight edge world of young people living in poverty on the Lower East Side of New York City in the late 1980s. It was a much different world there than it is today. They live with the homeless, violence and drug dealers in Tompkins Park, and with the fear and ignorance spawned by the AIDS epidemic.There is one scene, a fight scene, that echoes S.E. Hinton's classic book, "The Outsiders", and I loved her homage to that story about teens also on the outside of mainstream society. (One of the characters even mentions the book later in the story.) This book will appeal to all of us who grew up loving "The Outsiders".Part of the story takes place in Vermont, and Henderson creates that world with as much care. I felt like I was dropped into this story, these worlds that I knew little about. Great fiction can open up your mind and heart to characters and new ideas, and "Ten Thousand Saints" is great fiction. It is one of the best books I have read this year, and i can't wait for more from Eleanor Henderson.I read this book in two sittings, I just couldn't put it down. These characters manage to crawl inside your heart, and when they make bad decisions and mess things up, you just want to hug them and tell them it will be alright.
Even if the story itself had some holes, it was such an enjoyable, well-written read, I really didn't care. It was also a amazing look at the lost NYC of the late 1980s. I can see why this one made some Top 10 of 2011 lists and I am glad to have gotten this one in to this year's reading.
I enjoyed this ambitious debut novel that centered on the interesection of the lives of Jude, Johnny and Eliza in the year 1988 both in rural Vermont, and in the East Village, NYC. It took me a long time to get into the novel (it just didn't capture my attention at the beginning). But once it did, I was hooked. That said, it was still quite uneven.
Ten Thousand Saints is a strong debut novel set in the 80's in the NYC drug and music scene. Three teens cope with the death of their friend and their unstable parents. The "straight edge" counter-punk culture is new to me and it was interesting to read about this alternative life/music movement for kids who wanted to clean up their acts. The author does a great job of showing that parenting under the influence is quite ineffective! There were a lot of characters to keep straight and I sometimes wanted them to slow down and just stay in for a while, but you know teenagers. No doubt, the author tries to do too much here, but the writing is wonderfully intense and quite descriptive. Eleanor Henderson is definitely an author to watch.
This book is good. I liked the characters, found myself rooting for Jude and love the realism of the characters.
I can't wait for the movie to come out next year with Asa Butterfield!