- Written By: Chris Bohjalian
- Published By: Doubleday July 8, 2014
- Length: 288 pages
- Source: E galley via Edelweiss with permission by the publisher.
Synopsis: A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless teen living in an igloo made of ice and trash bags filled with frozen leaves. Half a year earlier, a nuclear plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom had experienced a cataclysmic meltdown, and both of Emily’s parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault. Was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to flee their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer’s apartment, and inventing a new identity for herself — an identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. When Emily befriends a young homeless boy named Cameron, she protects him with a ferocity she didn’t know she had. But she still can’t outrun her past, can’t escape her grief, can’t hide forever—and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.
A story of loss, adventure, and the search for friendship in the wake of catastrophe, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is one of Chris Bohjalian’s finest novels to date—breathtaking, wise, and utterly transporting. (Doubleday)
Emily Shepard is unlike most of the people she knows. She pushes her self to the limit with many of her relationships. Her parents are alcoholics and most evenings at home they slide down that slope of deeper and deeper oblivion. The day she and her classmates are hustled out of school, with alarms at the nuclear plant blaring she knows things are bad, and she knows both of her parents are at work. As she begins to hear reports of what’s happened her fears escalate and then the rumors that it was her own father, drunk on the job that caused the accident, his name is cursed and blamed. Emily’s afraid people will blame her too, so she runs and by several different means arrives in Burlington. With so many displaced she is afraid social workers will determine who she is, so she takes on a new name, lies about her age, and becomes just another runaway.
Emily’s decent is painful to read. She moves from innocent virgin to selling her body to truckers and taking pills to hide the emotional pain. She also begins mutilating herself, cutting to ease the pain. As a mother of young daughters this was so heartbreaking to read, she’s alone and afraid.
There are several topics that are shockingly in your face as you read Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, the least of which is the danger and possible devastation a nuclear power plant can posses. Emily’s journey is what will leave you mesmerized and haunted when the book is over. You will feel her anxiety as she moves from shelter, to sleeping on the floor of an ex-Vet hustler with other runaways, and her eventual low of building an igloo with frozen leaf filled garbage bags. She finds herself in survivalist mode. She befriends others somewhat like her, but they seem to leave her too, just as her parents did. Emily finds herself a nurturer when she meets a young boy Cameron who has been dealt an awful lot, foster families who are just as awful as his own mother.
As a long time fan of Chris Bohjalian’s books I wondered how he would find the voice of a 16 year old girl, but of course he nails it. Her language, thought process and actions are spot on with that of an immature, struggling teen. The startling reference to recent events that bring about the title to this book will make you pause, and perhaps cry as I did. I loved the lines of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and how Emily Shepard related to them.
I finished this book last week, and I’m still contemplating Emily, her plight and her choices. Be prepared to not want to put this book down as you read it, it will pull you in. I highly highly recommend Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, you won’t regret the time spent with this beautifully written story.
About the Author: Chris Bohjalian is the critically acclaimed author of sixteen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Sandcastle Girls, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter. (photo and author info via author website)
Caroline Leavitt has shared an insightful interview with Bohjalian on her blog, I implore you to read it, after I read it I wanted to re-read this book over again!!