Ten Thousand Saints isn't the sort of book I normally pick up, but it was a gift and I'm glad to say that I really enjoyed it. Set in the 1980s, Henderson paints a picture of both the drug and straight-edge (no drugs/drinking/sex/etc) scenes in New York.
It's 1987 and Jude is just a sixteen year old living in Vermont and obsessed with getting high and drunk. When his best friend, Teddy, overdoses, Jude moves in with his drug dealer dad in New York City. There he befriends Johnny, Teddy's older brother (now an underground tatoo artist), who introduces him to a straight edge lifestyle and the hardcore music scene (CBGBs!). They find out that an aquaintance, Eliza, is carrying Teddy's baby, and the three form a kind of family and run away together.
I'm not sure how great a summary that is. It's more like an introduction, because a lot more happens. This book is not short on drama! For one, Eliza is Jude's father's girlfriend's daughter. For another, Eliza and Jude like each other, but Eliza marries Johnny (who isn't a minor) even though Johnny is secretly gay! Daytime television has nothing on Henderson.
The book is beautifully written, which is good because all of the characters are incredibly hard to like. Jude devotes himself to drugs, then with an equal passion to the straight edge scene. He's not even remotely likeable until the very end when he learns balance. I enjoyed reading the book even though the characters consistantly made choices that made me want to bang my head against the wall.
The portrayal of New York and the hardcore scene was also supurb. I felt like I was really experiencing 1987 New York and at times could feel the bass drum. I'm not convinved that the straight-edge movement was portrayed any better than the drug scene, but as I am neither a drug addict nor straight-edge, this did not bother me. Books that deal with sobriety so often demonize drugs and alcohol that this seemed like a more realistic portrayal. That isn't to say that drugs are good, I just think it is unrealistic when "issue" books deal with addiction to anything and all the sudden everything is better. I think addiction is a symptom, not the source.
The end was abrupt. Jude resolved his guilt about the death of his friend and became a balanced person, but that was the only storyline that was resolved. The very end was set in 2006 and it reminded me of the epilogue from Harry Potter: it seemed like it was there to say "It's okay", but you're still left with a thousand unanswered questions and feelings of guilt that the ending wasn't fulfilling.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I won't be running out to buy any other novels by Henderson.