Jude and Teddy are best friends living in a small Vermont town in the late 1980’s, getting drunk on cheap red wine and sniffing coolant from air conditioners. Jude’s mother Harriet and father Les are aging hippies still immersed in the pot culture of the 60’s, although divorced from each other. Harriet makes glass bongs in her Vermont studio and Les sells the pot he grows indoors in New York City. Eliza, the daughter of Les’ wealthy dancer girlfriend, is on her way to a skiing vacation with friends but stops for a short visit with Jude. On New Year’s Eve 1987 Jude, Teddy and Eliza spend the night together at a party they have crashed. Their lives are changed irrevocably by the next morning. Teddy is dead from a drug overdose, Eliza is pregnant with Teddy’s child, and Jude is propelled even more deeply into his drug induced haze.
Despairing at Jude’s downward spiral, Harriet sends him to live in New York with his dad. There Jude looks up Johnny, Teddy’s half brother, who is involved with an underground youth culture powered by the paradoxical belligerence of hardcore punk and the righteous intolerance for drugs, meat and sex known as “straight edge”. Jude is drawn to this new life style as a way to hold onto Teddy through a friendship with Johnny. He forms a wary relationship with Eliza as she grapples with the choices she must make due to her unwanted pregnancy. The three teens, Jude, Johnny and Eliza, form a strong bond as they become caught up in the music scene on the eastern seaboard that embraces the “straight edge” lifestyle. The story moves between Vermont and New York City as each character struggles to come to terms with grief and loss as well as the nature of loyalty and friendship.
Eleanor Henderson cares about her unpromising cast of characters. She has created an empathic portrait of young people, who if we saw them on the street would be easy to dismiss as punks and losers, but through Henderson’s sympathetic storytelling we care about deeply. Her writing is original and accomplished. This is a great first novel and I eagerly await her next creation.
“Life is not about what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you.” ~Chelsea Clinton’s Grandmother