Riveting Reads: The Best Fiction of 2011

Our favorite novels of the year—and why we loved them. Plus, be sure to see the best nonfiction books of 2011 and seven more books we loved this year. Plus: Be sure to see the best nonfiction books of 2011 and seven more books we loved this year.
Ten Thoursand Saints
Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

Ten Thousand Saints

400 pages; Ecco
"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," Eleanor Henderson writes in Ten Thousand Saints (Ecco), forecasting the death that will spark the next year's events in this irresistibly rich and engrossing novel. The story moves from Lintonburg, Vermont—where 15-year-old Teddy and his best friend, Jude, pass the time getting high, being roughed up by jocks, and yearning vaguely for the mysterious pleasures of girls—to Manhattan's (pregentrified) Lower East Side, where Teddy's 18-year-old brother, Johnny, works as a tattoo artist and plays in a hard-core punk band. Manhattan is also where Jude's father, Les, an amiable pot dealer, has lived since abandoning his family years earlier. On New Year's Eve, Eliza, Les's almost-stepdaughter, visits Lintonburg and relieves Teddy of his virginity during a party. Hours later, Teddy dies under heartbreakingly stupid circumstances. This all happens in the first two chapters. The rest of the poignant, complex story unfolds over the following year, as Eliza, Jude, and Johnny form a tight but fraught bond in Teddy's memory—and Les belatedly tries to act like a dad. Henderson brilliantly evokes the gritty energy of New York City in the '80s, and the violent euphoria of the music scene. The hard-edged settings highlight the touching vulnerability of young characters, who are—behind the sex, drugs, and punk rock—innocents aching for something unnameable, always just beyond their grasp.
— Karen Holt