Set in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district in the 1980’s, 5150 depicts a failure in the rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood. When young, gay Ethan Lloyd awakens to tremors he is first convinced they are little earthquakes. They turn out to be a forewarning of a psychotic episode that lands him first in jail, and then transferred or “5150’ed” to the mental hospital. Told in the first person with an extremely unreliable narrator, the book drags the reader into the world of madness and mental hospitals, with only the occasional gasp for air in the agreed-upon common reality most of us share.
Ethan’s struggle to regain his sanity is pockmarked by a world of drugs, dirty sidewalks, vagrants and angels. Were it not for society’s waterlogged safety nets, he might never have returned to share his tale of survival.