Henderson displays a powerful moral imagination; all that’s missing is discipline.

TEN THOUSAND SAINTS

Screwed-up parents beget screwed-up kids. So it’s no surprise that an ill-omened teen pregnancy is the centerpiece of this bold debut, a heady witches’ brew.

Teddy and Jude, best friends in their mid-teens, have big problems. Jude was adopted at birth, possibly suffering from fetal-alcohol effects. His adoptive parents, Les and Harriet, are feckless potheads, Les growing pot, Harriet making drug paraphernalia. When Jude turns nine, Harriet evicts Les for cheating on her; Jude hasn’t seen him since. As for Teddy, his Indian father is supposedly dead; his white mother, a sloppy drunk, has just split. The boys skateboard through their Vermont town, getting high and shoplifting at will. On this last day of 1987, they have a date with Eliza, a total stranger but the daughter of Les’ girlfriend. At 15, she’s already a cokehead and sexually promiscuous. They gatecrash a party. Eliza gives Teddy cocaine before they have sex in a bathroom and she returns to New York. Back out in the cold, Jude’s idea that they inhale Freon is a step too far; he almost dies and Teddy does die, but he will haunt the novel, for he has made Eliza pregnant. All this could be depressing, but it’s not, thanks to the barbed language and fast pacing. And Henderson’s just getting started. Les shows up to remove Jude to Alphabet City, the ravaged Manhattan neighborhood where he lives. A near neighbor is Teddy’s 18-year-old half brother Johnny, whose role becomes increasingly prominent. Johnny is a tattoo artist and musician, as well as a straight-edge hardcore punk (no booze, no drugs). Although a closeted gay, he chivalrously offers to marry Eliza and claim paternity to thwart Eliza’s mother, who’s pushing for adoption. This is where Henderson loses the thread, wobbling uncertainly between Jude, Johnny and Eliza while doing double duty as a counterculture guide to the straight-edge scene. Context overwhelms characters, the unwieldy cast now including Johnny’s AIDS-stricken lover and Teddy’s Indian father.

Henderson displays a powerful moral imagination; all that’s missing is discipline.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-202102-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2011

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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