Friday, April 29, 2011

Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson

Ten Thousand Saints: A NovelI love it when I read a book outside of my typical fare and find a treasure.  Finding a wonderful book that you read because you were pretty sure you'd like it is one thing, but finding a wonderful book that you read despite your lack of interest is thrilling.  Fresh air and discovery. Because you know it could just as easily ended up horrid.

Same goes for the ARCs, quite honestly.  I don't know what it is, but I just don't have very good luck with ARCs.  Perhaps I am not selecting them judiciously enough, perhaps what begins feeling like a treat turns into feeling like a duty and I enter into them predisposed to be irritated.  I don't know, but I was on the verge of severely limiting their place in my reading diet when I cracked open the cover of this book.

Okay, a note about the cover (and title) of this book.  They don't really match the story, in my opinion.  I delayed starting this book because the cover/title and synopsis seemed so different.  The cover looks like a quiet, descriptive, thoughtful book.  The synopsis speaks of die-hard hippies in the late 1980s and their adopted children that are getting high on whatever they can get their hands on.  The synopsis is much more accurate than the cover/title.  I like the cover/title, but have to say that the advertising must not have read the synopsis, let alone the book.

Right, so anyhow, Ten Thousand Saints was an ARC (provided by Powell's Indiespensible program and included in the shipment with The Fates Will Find Their Way) as well as a book that I never would have picked up myself based on the synopsis.  Even during reading, even after reading, I couldn't stop thinking that this was a book that really wasn't my style--making it all the more shocking that I enjoyed it so throughly.

Why wasn't it my type of book?
  - the excessive drug use/abuse (condoned and otherwise)
  - the irresponsible parents (and one extremely controlling one)
  - the teen in 1980s NYC (I just don't relate--small town CA in the 90s was my scene)
  - the die-hard hippie focus (my parents were ex-hippies--nothing like these people!)
  - the hard-core punk and straight edge movement (whew, intense!)
  - social issues: discrimination, tattoos, AIDS, homelessness, adoption (just not my go-to topics)

Why on earth did I enjoy it so much?
  - the people seemed real (even if I didn't relate or like them much)
  - it felt like the 80s (even though my 80s was quite different)
  - it kept me on the edge of my seat (takes a special book to do that to me)
  - it was educational (I'd never heard of the straight edge
  - it felt new and fresh (not your average NYTimes Bestseller)
  - the writing was fun to read (intelligent but not cumbersome)

What is it about? (In which the GoodReads description is added after the fact because I realized belatedly that I forgot to talk about the storyline. oops.)

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.
So what I want to know is this: whether what felt very much like the 80s to me would seem the same to someone who was a teen in the late 80s.  I was about 10 in a small mountain town when these teens were fighting the drug scene in NYC--apples and oranges.  I suppose it's possible that this degree of separation made the book more appealing to me than it might have been otherwise.

Many issues pop up in this book, but it didn't feel over-saturated.  It remained balanced.  It has restored my faith (hope?) in ARCs somewhat and has made me even more impressed with Powells.  I'm dying to see what other people think about this book.  Will you go read it so that we can chat?

Title: Ten Thousand Saints
Author: Eleanor Henderson
Pages: 400
Published: Ecco 2011
My Rating: 4 stars...or 4.5 stars? can't decide
Read For: ARC from Powell's Indiespensible (included with The Fates Will Find Their Way)

Eligible to be Nominated!


  1. I had to google straight's new to me, too. And I was in high school in the mid '80s!

    And I read the Amazon description of the book..."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 cliché distinguish a nervy voice adept at etching the outlines of a generation, its prejudices and pandemics, and the idols killed along the way." Seriously?? That's got to be the wordiest un-description ever.

  2. My coworker and I are divided on this book. It seems to be getting some pretty good reviews out there, and she loved, but I'm afraid I couldn't make myself read more than the first 75 pages or so. The author is booked to do a reading & signing at our store in June, and if I like her personally, there's a good chance that I'll go back and try reading her book again.

  3. Softdrink--I'm so relieved to find that I'm not the only one in the dark about straight edge! Right after I wrote this review I read Nick&Norah's Infinite Playlist which coincidentally had a fairly similar setting with straight edge and everything. Weird!

    What on earth is up with that description?? Really, what gives? I guess I should have talked more about the actual storyline in my "review", huh? oops. :) The GoodReads description is pretty good, maybe I'll update my review to include it.

    As the Crowe--it is always interesting how a book can be so different for different people. I know that I didn't really enjoy it until I was at least halfway through (or at least I didn't realize I was enjoying it??) The author's voice felt surprisingly fresh to me, so I'm interested to hear what the author is like in person...I hope you blog about it after you see her.

  4. Hi Melody,
    Thanks for sharing this review. I'm intrigued... Unlike you, I - for some reason - like books that have drug use/abuse in them. I'm not sure why, since I in no way participate or condone that behavior (unless you count my penchant for a few pints of beer a couple times a week as alcohol abuse).

    I'm curious too about the ARC process. I know about them, and that many book bloggers receive and write about them, but I have not. What's (briefly) the scoop? (if you don't mind taking a moment to educate me)


  5. Jay, isn't it fascinating how we are drawn to (or put off by) certain topics without any logical reason why? Weird. I love finding a book that overcomes those preferences.

    I started getting ARCs through LibraryThings' Early Reviewer program (similar to GoodReads' First Reads program) and still prefer it. There are tons of ways to get ARCs, though. (If you search "how to get ARCs" in the Book Blogs Search Engine, you should come up with multiple blog posts that will give you specifics.) NetGalley, if you have an e-reader, and many publisher supported programs make it easy to find ARCs as well. At some point, when a blogger develops a following, they'll get direct emails from authors/publishers, although their books don't always coincide with a blogger's reading tastes. :)

    The problem I've had is that once I accept an ARC, I feel obligated to read and review it, which takes away some of the freedom I like to have in my reading. There are so many books that I already want to read and don't get enough time for, you know? I guess the secret, like in so many things, is balance.


I'd love to hear what you have to say, leave a comment!