Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

( 5 )

Overview

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, ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Somehow Emily Shepard, the teenage narrator of this fiction, survived the meltdown of the nuclear plant that her alcoholic father probably caused. Now, six months later, bereft of family, she lives a furtive existence in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, stealing when she can and living on scraps. Inspired only by the poetry of Emily Dickinson, she has taken a young boy under wing as she attempts to carve out a new life in this lonely, off-the-grid apocalypse. With his new novel, Chris Bohjalian (The Light in the Ruins; The Sandcastle Girls) has created an intense, gripping story of a young girl coming of age under extreme conditions.

Publishers Weekly
05/12/2014
Bohjalian’s (The Light in the Ruins) impressive 16th novel charts the life of a teenage girl undone after a nuclear disaster. Already troubled, rebellious Emily Shepard becomes orphaned and homeless after the meltdown of Reddington’s nuclear power plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Wandering aimlessly, she finds refuge in a local shelter with Cameron, a nine-year-old boy she soon finds herself protecting. Emily is banished once she’s pegged as the daughter of heavy-drinking parents both employed (and held responsible by surviving townsfolk) at the power plant where the meltdown occurred. Frequent flashbacks to her days at school and the youth shelter show her surrounded by influential miscreants, self-abusing “cutters,” and drug takers like friends Andrea and Camille. Stealing and shoplifting through neighboring towns in order to survive the frigid New England winter becomes an often harrowing ordeal for Emily and Cameron as she attempts to figure out her next move. Through her first-person narration, readers become intimately familiar with Emily (and Cameron), as she grapples with the frustrating life of a misunderstood homeless youth on the run. Emily continually surprises herself with her newfound maternal instincts for Cameron and how difficult it is to survive life on the streets. Her admiration for kindred spirit Emily Dickinson serves to humanize her plight, as does an epiphany in the book’s bittersweet conclusion. (July)
Library Journal
02/01/2014
Emily Shepard is hiding out in a shelter made of ice and trash bags after a nightmarish meltdown at a nuclear plant in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom that left her parents dead. Since the meltdown might have been her father's fault, she's not reaching out for help, but she does take a homeless boy named Cameron under her wing. More heartfelt, engaged work from relentlessly best-selling, best-book author Bohjalian, and how can you not love a heroine who identifies with Emily Dickinson?
Kirkus Reviews
2014-05-29
After a nuclear meltdown, a Vermont teen flees to the mean streets of Burlington.Emily Shepard, 16, is hanging out with fellow juniors in the lunchroom at her exclusive private school when sirens signal disaster: The Cape Abenaki nuclear power plant in northeastern Vermont has exploded, and the entire area surrounding it, including the school, must be evacuated immediately. Rather than stay with her classmates, Emily strikes out on her own. She assumes, correctly as it develops, that her father, the chief engineer at the plant, and her mother, the communications director, were killed in the disaster. Her entire town is cordoned off, part of an “exclusion zone”; armed guards prevent Emily from returning home to rescue the family dog. As she hitchhikes southwest toward Burlington, she overhears talk blaming her father for the accident. (Both her parents were heavy drinkers.) Fearing she will be asked to testify about her father’s alcoholism, she assumes a new identity and claims to be 18. After bouncing from a Burlington shelter to the home of a drug dealer who exploits her and other young women as prostitutes, Emily rescues 9-year-old Cameron, an escapee from an abusive foster home. During the frigid Vermont winter, the two inhabit an igloo of frozen, leaf-filled trash bags, but when spring thaw melts their domicile, Emily gets a waitressing job and a place to stay, thanks to a shelter acquaintance. This newfound security is short-lived: Cameron falls seriously ill, and after an emergency room visit threatens to expose both their identities, Emily fears she has run out of Plan B’s.Readers hoping for a futuristic novel imagining the aftermath of a Fukushima-type disaster in the United States may be disappointed—Bohjalian’s primary focus is on examining, in wrenching detail, the dystopia wrought by today’s economy. Emily’s voice is a compelling one, however, and hers is a journey readers will avidly follow.
From the Publisher
Praise for Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands:

A Boston Globe Pick of the Week

"I have a new favorite Chris Bohjalian novel.  Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a book I wish I'd been smart enough to write:  a masterpiece of narrative voice, of emotion, and of how – as Emily Dickinson might say – the sparest of words can hold a wealth of pain. If you need any proof that fiction can scare us, move us, and break our hearts simultaneously – look no further." – Jodi Picoult

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian's terrific new novel, could serve as a master class on how to write the thinking reader's bestseller. Suspenseful, provocative, often terrifying yet compassionate . . . all while creating one of the most memorable teenage protagonists in recent fiction . . . Moving, hopeful and grounded in the everyday, and as heartbreaking as the inspiration for the novel's title.” – Elizabeth Hand, the Washington Post

“A chilling and heartbreaking suspense novel for readers who like the poetry of Emily Dickinson . . . Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is ambitious and poignant thanks to the voice of its teen narrator . . . It’s a novel about survival and the power of literature and poetry.” – Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

“Heartbreaking . . . scrupulously realistic . . . Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a novel for adults . . . but readers of any age who love John Green’s novels might also find Shepard’s story, sobering as it is, an awesome one.” – Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Bohjalian’s inventive latest imagines a nuclear meltdown in Vermont. Sixteen-year-old Emily loses her father—the plant’s chief engineer—in the accident, and she flees the town to escape its vitriol. Though she ends up homeless, she never gives up on home. Emily’s voice is droll, her journey enthralling and indelible.” Best New Books, People Magazine

“A ‘must read’ book . . . a brilliant story of a young woman living an unexpected life, making difficult decisions and dealing with an ugly aftermath.” – Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post Dispatch

“A masterful storyteller . . . Bohjalian hits every note. His characters have depth, his story sings. It’s a book that works well for either teens or adults.” – Beth Colvin, The New Orleans Advocate
 
"Emily's character is written so well and her story so absorbing (this is very much a read-in-one-or-two-sittings type of book) that it is easy to forget you’re actually reading . . . Close Your  Eyes, Hold Hands reminds us of our innate need for connection.” – Melissa M. Firman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"A powerful metaphor for a 16-year-old girl who has lost everything . . . haunting and resonant . . . Bohjalian has long endowed his characters with a spark of humanity, even in the midst of brutality." — Ellen Kanner, The Miami Herald

“Bohjalian delivers a thoroughly engrossing and poignant coming-of-age story set against a nightmarish backdrop as real as yesterday's headlines from Fukushima and Chernobyl. And in Emily he's created a remarkable and complicated teenager, a passionate, intelligent girl equally capable of cutting herself with a razor blade and quoting Emily Dickinson, then explaining it all to us in a wry, honest voice as distinctive as Holden Caulfield's.” – Ann Levin, Associated Press

“With breathtaking prowess, Chris Bohjalian channels the character of a troubled teenage girl who struggles to survive after a nuclear meltdown . . . You cannot help but pause and marvel . . . A potent story of loss, hope, and the overpowering yearning for home.” – Nanore Barsoumian, The Armenian Weekly

“Despite his success, Bohjalian shows no signs of slowing down.” – Zach Despart, Addison County Independent

“A dystopian nightmare entwined with a wrenching personal crisis . . . The notion of ‘just a life I left’ grows more intense for somebody like Emily Shepard who can’t return and is unsure about how to go forward.” – Susan Green, Burlington Free Press

“A story that feels like it could be ripped out of the headlines . . . Bohjalian’s regular readers will find the same masterful storytelling they have come to expect, and the realistic and captivating narrator may attract a new audience just graduating from the ranks of teen fiction.” – Brighid Moret, Communities Digital News

“Bohjalian once again reveals an uncanny talent for crafting a young female protagonist who is fatally flawed, but nevertheless immensely likable . . .  resonates with a message of hope, truth and the fragility of life.” – Karen Ann Cullotta, Bookpage
 
“Wrenching... Emily’s voice is a compelling one… and hers is a journey readers will avidly follow.” – Kirkus

“In his sixteenth novel, the versatile Bohjalian has Emily tell her harrowing, tragic story retrospectively . . . [A] brave saga.” – Booklist

"Emily's story is both heartbreaking and frightening . . . The book rings with poetry and truth." – Jeanne Bogino, Library Journal

“Bohjalian’s impressive 16th novel charts the life of a teenage girl after a nuclear disaster . . . Through her first-person narration, readers become intimately familiar with Emily . . . Her admiration for kindred spirit Emily Dickinson serves to humanize her plight, as does an epiphany in the books’ bittersweet conclusion.” – Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385534833
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/8/2014
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 19,188
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Bohjalian

CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the critically acclaimed author of seventeen 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. Visit him at www.chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook.

Biography

It was March 1986 when Chris Bohjalian made a decision that would have an incalculable impact on his writing. He and his wife had just hailed a taxi home to Brooklyn after a party in Manhattan's East Village when they suddenly found themselves on a wild and terrifying 45-minute ride. The crazed cabbie, speeding through red lights and ignoring stop signs, ultimately dropped the shaken couple off... in front of a crack house being stormed by the police. It was then that Bohjalian and his wife decided that the time had come to flee the city for pastoral Vermont. This incident and the couple's subsequent move to New England not only inspired a series of columns titled "Idyll Banter" (later compiled into a book of the same name), but a string of books that would cause Bohjalian to be hailed as one of the most humane, original, and beloved writers of his time.

While Bohjalian's Manhattan murder mystery A Killing in the Real World was a somewhat quiet debut, follow-up novels (many of which are set in his adopted state) have established him as a writer to watch. A stickler for research, he fills his plotlines with rich, historically accurate details. But he never loses sight of what really draws readers into a story: multi-dimensional characters they can relate to.

The selection of his 1997 novel Midwives for Oprah's Book Club established Bohjalian as a force to be reckoned with, igniting a string of critically acclaimed crowd pleasers. His literary thriller The Double Bind was a Barnes & Noble Recommends pick in 2007.

Good To Know

Bohjalian's fascination with the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald extends beyond the author's prominent influence on The Double Bind. In an interview with Loaded Shelf.com, Bohjalian estimated that he owns "at least 42 different editions of books by or about F. Scott Fitzgerald."

. Two of Chris Bojalian's novels have been adapted into critically acclaimed TV movies. An adaptation of Past the Bleachers with Richard Dean Anderson was made in 1995, and a version of Midwives starring Sissy Spacek and Peter Coyote debuted in 2001.

In our interview with Bohjalian, he shared some fascinating and fun facts about himself:

"I was the heaviest child, by far, in my second-grade class. My mother had to buy my pants for me at a store called the "Husky Boys Shop," and still she had to hem the cuffs up around my knees. I hope this experience, traumatizing as it was, made me at least marginally more sensitive to people around me."

"I have a friend with Down syndrome, a teenage boy who is capable of remembering the librettos from entire musicals the first or second time he hears them. The two of us belt them out together whenever we're driving anywhere in a car.

"I am a pretty avid bicyclist. The other day I was biking alone on a thin path in the woods near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, and suddenly before me I saw three bears. At first I saw only two, and initially I thought they were cats. Then I thought they were dogs. Finally, just as I was approaching them and they started to scurry off the path and into the thick brush, I understood they were bears. Bear cubs, to be precise. Which is exactly when their mother, no more than five or six feet to my left, reared up on her hind legs, her very furry paws and very sharp claws raised above her head in a gesture that an optimist might consider a wave and guy on a bike might consider something a tad more threatening. Because she was standing on a slight incline, I was eye level with her stomach -- an eventual destination that seemed frighteningly plausible. I have never biked so fast in my life in the woods. I may never have biked so fast in my life on a paved road."

"I do have hobbies -- I garden and bike, for example -- but there's nothing in the world that gives me even a fraction of the pleasure that I derive from hanging around with my wife and daughter."

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    1. Hometown:
      Lincoln, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 12, 1961
    2. Place of Birth:
      White Plains, New York
    1. Education:
      Amherst College
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUE

I built an igloo against the cold out of black plastic trash bags filled with wet leaves. It wasn’t perfect. The winds were coming across the lake, and the outside wall that faced the water was flat—not like the igloos I had seen on TV somewhere or I guess in a book. It looked like the wall on the inside of a cave: flat and kind of scaly. But the outside wall that faced the city looked round like a melon. I couldn’t stand all the way up inside it, but in the middle I could crouch like a hunchback. It was big enough for three people to lie down if you curled up, and one night we had to squeeze in four. But most of the time it was just Cameron and me. I really had to trust the fuck out of someone before I would let them anywhere near Cameron in the night. But, the truth is, people came and went. You know how it is. Especially in the winter. But the igloo kept me warm. Warmer, anyway. I mean, it’s not like I got frostbite. I knew kids and grown-ups who did. I knew one kid who got gangrene. They say the doctors had to cut off both of his feet, but I don’t know that for a fact because I never saw him again.
I’m going to try and tell you only the things that I know for a fact are true. When I’m guessing, I’ll be honest and tell you I’m guessing.
You build the igloos in the day when the leaves are soaked but the ice has melted from the sun, and then they freeze at night inside the bags. So does the water on the outside of the bags; that’s why the bags stick together like glue.

******

Some people said I left the shelter because someone must have tried to rape me. No one tried to rape me. I left for a couple of reasons. I mean, I did feel kind of hounded—by the other girls, one especially, but not by the people who ran the place. The “staff.” Whatever. One of the girls was starting to suspect who I was, and I knew that once my secret was out, she’d turn me in. I thought she’d want no part of me. And you know what? I wouldn’t have blamed her. A lot of days I wanted no part of me.
Also, I knew the staff wanted me gone. Or, at least, they wanted to figure out who I really was. They were getting pretty frustrated because they couldn’t find my parents. My story was starting to unravel. So, I just left.
Given that I was always kind of—and here’s a pretty awesome little euphemism—a troubled teen, it’s a miracle that the counselors who ran the shelter didn’t send me packing a lot sooner. It wouldn’t have surprised a lot of people who knew me if I really had managed to get myself thrown out on my ass. But I didn’t. That’s not what happened. I was already plenty scared, and so I tried playing by the rules. I tried to behave. But it didn’t work. And so it would be the last time I’d try for a while.
This was back in the days when the city was still trying to figure out what to do with the walkers. Technically, I was a walker, even though I didn’t walk. I stole a bike and rode to the city from the Northeast Kingdom. I don’t know how many miles that is, but it took me two full days, because I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was in, like, fourth or fifth grade. The worst was going up and over the mountains. I just walked the bike up the eastern slopes. That took an entire afternoon right there. One time a guy in a bread truck gave me a lift, but he only took me about twenty miles. Still, a lot of those miles were uphill, so I was grateful. Lots of people—most people—had families or friends in the city or the suburbs around Lake Champlain who could take them in. And people were taking in total strangers. Vermonters are like that. I guess decent people anywhere are like that. But there were still a lot of walkers just pitching tents in City Hall Park or sleeping in their cars or pickups or out in the cold, or building their igloos down by the water. Squatters. Refugees.
I guess it would have been a lot worse if Reactor Number Two had exploded, as well. You know, gone totally Chernobyl. But it didn’t. It was only Reactor Number One that melted down and blew up. 

******

When I was a little kid, I used to take my American Girl dolls and play orphanage. The make-believe stories were always based on A Little Princess. The movie and the book. Whatever. One of my dolls would be a beautiful rich girl who suddenly winds up poor and in an orphanage. No mom or dad, no aunts or uncles. Some of the other girls hate her, but some love her. The woman I had running the place was always a total whack-job bully. Think of that lunatic in the musical Annie. She was the model. So, I guess, Annie was an inspiration, too. When I got bored, I’d simply have the girl rescued. Her dad or her mom and dad would just show up at the orphanage. Boom. Game over.
Sometimes I tried playing the game with Barbies, but that never worked. The Barbies looked pretty hot. If they were going to be trapped somewhere, it sure wasn’t going to be in an orphanage. It was going to be someplace way more awful. I know that now, too. 

******

My family had a beautiful woodstove. Not one of those black boxes that look like they do nothing but pollute the crap out of the air. It was made of gray soapstone that was almost the color of my mom’s favorite piece of jewelry: an antique necklace that was made of moonstones. I think it had once belonged to my grandmother. It was Danish. Anyway, the woodstove had a window in the front that was shaped like the window in a castle or a palace. I’m sure there’s a word for that shape, and I will look it up.
 My dad or mom would build a fire in the woodstove when we were all home on the weekend and hanging around in the den. The den was next to the kitchen, and the woodstove would heat the den and the kitchen and even the TV room on the other side of the kitchen. The rooms had baseboards and LP gas heat, too, of course. The whole house did. It was pretty new. I know now that a lot of people called our kind of house a meadow mansion or a McMansion behind our backs, but we didn’t build it. We just moved there from a suburb of New York City when I was a little kid.
 There was a thermostat stuck through a pipe-cleaner-sized hole in the stovepipe about a foot and a half above the soapstone box. When we had a fire going, my dad wanted it to be around four hundred to six hundred degrees. When it got above six hundred, one of us would close up the flue and the temperature would go down. If it got above eight hundred, you were in danger of a chimney fire. The thermostat was kind of like a car’s speedometer: the numbers went a lot higher than you were ever going to need. It went up to seventeen hundred, and you were totally fucked if it ever got that high. We’re talking chimney fire for sure.
My parents’ running joke when the woodstove thermostat climbed above six or seven hundred? It was “Chernobyling”—or about to melt down. I can still hear my mom’s voice when she would say that to my dad when he would come home from skiing late on a Saturday afternoon: “Honey, be sure and watch the stove when you add a log tonight. The damn thing nearly Chernobyled this afternoon.” You wouldn’t know it from the things people write or say about my dad these days, but he could be very funny. My mom, too. They could both be very funny.
I guess that’s why I use “Chernobyl” like a verb.
I don’t use Fukushima or Fukushima Daiichi like verbs. 
But I could. After all, Fukushima had a pretty fucked‑up end, too. And it even sounds a bit like a swear. 

******

I don’t know why I began my story with the igloo. The igloo was really the beginning of the end—or, maybe, the end of the beginning. Here’s a sentence I read about me in one of the hospital staff’s case management notes: “Every kinship had fallen away.” Well, yeah. Duh. Even Maggie—my dog—was gone.
By the time I was building my igloo, the worst of the shit-storm was over. At least it was for most of Vermont. It wasn’t for me, of course. It wasn’t for a lot of us from up in that corner of the Kingdom. But it was for most everyone else. By the time I was building my igloo, I was just another one of the homeless kids who freaked out the middle-aged people at the Banana Republic or Williams-Sonoma when they saw me on the street or in the mall in Burlington.
So, maybe I shouldn’t begin with the igloo. Maybe I should begin with the posse and the SSI apartment where we crashed. That was a home, too, if a home is a place where you can say you lived for a while. Or I could begin with the Oxies—the OxyContin. Or the robbery. Or Andrea Simonetti, who for a few months was like a sister to me, but now I have no idea where she is and I worry. Or I could begin with Poacher or the johns or the tents with the squatters. Or the shelter—with the girls in the shelter. Or the people who tried to help me. (Yeah, there were sometimes people who wanted to help me.) Or I could begin with Cameron.
Or maybe I should just begin at the beginning. With Reactor Number One. 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 8, 2014

    This is an amazing, poignant story that delves deep into the wor

    This is an amazing, poignant story that delves deep into the world of teen homelessness. Emily Shepherd promises to tell the whole truth; she doesn’t sugarcoat it for readers, and she sometimes strays from the topic of hand, but the novel flows beautifully and I was enamored from the very beginning.

    Life hasn’t been easy for Emily, and as the final remnants of her world fall apart with the meltdown of the nuclear power plant her parents run, disappearing becomes her only option. Scared of those around her and their reception of her family name, Emily takes on a different persona and hits the streets. This gritty depiction of her life as she recalls it isn’t overly graphic, but gets the point across just the same as it comes to drugs, stealing, shelter survival, lies, and meaningless sex.

    I love Emily’s voice, and I’m in awe of Bohjalian’s ability to capture the essence of a teenaged girl as she hits rock bottom, attempts to care for a young runaway she meets on the street, and ultimately giving up. Where do you go when you have absolutely no one? As Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands unfolds, readers become one with Emily as she spirals down, reminiscing about her parents and her experiences along the way.

    The title has a rather profound meaning that is explained near the very end—to close your eyes to the bad all around you and walk away from the bad, holding hands with another who will help keep you grounded, but in Emily’s case, there is no one to hold hands with, and as she stumbles blindly through life, ready for death, she becomes a resilient, strong young woman who beats the odds. Five stars.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 8, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Tremendously Moving - Great Highs and Devastating Lows I would

    Tremendously Moving - Great Highs and Devastating Lows


    I would like to thank NetGalley & Doubleday for granting me a copy of this e-ARC to read in exchange for an honest review. Though I received this e-book for free that in no way impacts my review.


    Goodreads Blurb:
    <blockquote><strong>A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of <em>Midwives</em> and <em>The Sandcastle Girls</em>.</strong>

    <em>Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands</em> 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, <em>Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands</em> is one of Chris Bohjalian’s finest novels to date—breathtaking, wise, and utterly transporting.</blockquote>



         Bohjalian knocks another one out of the park with this poignant tale of love, loss, and self-loathing, beautifully blended into a stunningly realistic coming of age tale. Yet this story is not just about the protagonist, Emily Shepard, coming of age, but also about America's own journey as we struggle to come to grips with the realities we're facing - that as the majority of our nuclear power plants head into old age their risks now outweigh their benefits. However the second message isn't shoved down our throats, but simply stated at the beginning and then left for us to make of it what we will. The true focus of this story is Emily Shepard.

         From the opening scene I was trapped, utterly at the mercy of this wise beyond her years young girl as she narrates her own journey through a nightmarish world. An erudite young woman, Emily relates her story similarly to a personal journal, but one with an audience in mind. Her inclusion of lines from Emily Dickinson's poems, as well as her response to them, create an unusual and pleasing aspect to this tale. Emily begins by stating that she will always tell the truth. And she does, no matter how raw or painful the topic. While she may have done slightly more in the way of typical teenage rebellion, it is readily apparent that she is in no way prepared for the reality her choices force her into. 

         Bohjalian has magically channeled Emily - the young, frightened, teenager who is the heart of the story. Once I began reading I completely forgot this was written by a man, and could have easily forgotten that I was reading fiction, that's how powerful his writing has become. With each new release I read by Mr. Bohjalian I keep assuming he must have reached his limits, and with each new book he continues to surprise me by moving by leaps and bounds beyond anything that came before.

         In the immediate wake of the nuclear power plant's meltdown Emily hears horrific things about both her parents, some of which are said directly to her. The anger directed toward her family is so powerful that she runs away from the evacuation team. With both her parents Vermont's most hated people, if not America's at the time of the meltdown, Emily wisely fears retaliation simply because she is Bill and Mira Shepard's daughter. In an effort to disappear she changes her name to Abby Bliss, a nod to her personal idol, Emily Dickinson. Too late she realizes that she should have chosen a far less memorable name, but the damage is done, and so she simply makes the best of it.

         Though the story is told in sections, moving between present and past, Emily's voice remains so consistent the shifts are hardly noticeable, aside from the emotional overload that come with the flashbacks. Even then the shifts do not disrupt the flow of the story. If anything they help illuminate the larger story being told. And the way in which the title of the book was introduced into the story was spot on. It couldn't have been done any better, nor would the book have been the same without that being included.

         As Emily becomes more streetwise it is heartbreaking watching her have to grow up so quickly, and become even harder and less trusting than she made herself out to be pre-meltdown. Basically she becomes amoral, though she is simply trying to survive the only way she learns how. This is one of the two personas Emily has - the hardened drug addict who has adopted a dangerous method of expressing her own inner turmoil and self-loathing. Although she's always been something of a loner, before it was by choice. Now it is by necessity, as she feels her way through the minefield of being homeless, lacking even a GED, and not knowing who can be trusted.

         Emily's voice is stunningly rich and complex. Her relationship with Cameron, the young boy she ends up protecting, is surprisingly maternal and shows us the vulnerable Emily. The Emily who mourns the loss of her parents and is terrified for the fate of her beloved dog Maggie, who she was forced to leave behind. Though he features rather prominently in her story, we only know what Emily will share about him since the entire story is told in her voice. He is a huge catalyst in her life, which she clearly recognizes since she labeled her journal BC and AC - Before Cameron &amp; After Cameron. 

         This is a heartrending story, but the delivery is so real, gritty and lyrical at the same time, that you don't get stuck in the heartbreak of Emily's life. Instead I was sucked into Emily's world with her, viewing it through her eyes right along with her, which certainly didn't leave much time for self-pity. Oddly it seemed to leave more time for self-recrimination that anything else. A moving tale from beginning to end, this is easily one of Mr. Bohjalian's best books, if not his best to date. Don't miss out on this wonderful story. If you are only going to buy one book this summer, make it <em>Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands</em>
    .

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2014

    more from this reviewer

     I wanted to read this one because it sounds like a combo of a t

     I wanted to read this one because it sounds like a combo of a type of dystopia/post-apocalytpic and the contemporary grittiness that I enjoy. Emily sounds like such a fighter and a fighter in order to survive not only a literal nuclear meltdown, but also losing both of her parents that same day. 




       The idea of homelessness hasn't been explored much in YA and I think that its an important topic too, and hopefully one that most readers would never face, but we also hope that readers don't have to experience the bad stuff of the contemporaries out there. Or the chilling government or earth/town ending things like aliens, meltdowns, power losses, etc. And while it scares me that things like this have happened and can happen again, I still can't stop being drawn to the genre. 




        The world building was believable. I just have to wonder what the actual fall out would be, if the impact would be larger, how we'd react in a similar real life situation. But I don't think that anything was stretched or out of the realm of possibility. On top of the hair-raising, hope to goodness never happens to me element of the story, I liked Emily. True to my prediction she was so strong, she had a will to keep surviving and to protect herself. She was easy to pull for even though I can imagine if it were real life I might be like the other kids and be wary of her because of her parents involvement with the plant. 




        The beginning did take a bit to get me in, but I liked the premise so I stuck with it, and I was rewarded for that. I think that the jumps in time were a little abrupt and it was pulling me out of the story. I understand that its giving a full picture of Emily's life and what happened before, during and after for her. 




        At times it did start to ramble and I would skim a little bit, but I always got pulled back in. It felt very literary and then other times just like a teenage girl talking to me. 




        Cameron was another highlight. He is a kid that she picked up along the way with her journeys, and they effected each other a lot and I saw growth and development with both of them. 
       




    Bottom Line: Gritty and thorough account of a girl before and after a nuclear melt-through. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 15, 2014

    What a haunting, convoluted, creative tale. When I first started

    What a haunting, convoluted, creative tale. When I first started this novel I didn’t think I was going to like it. It was very twisted and jumped around quite a bit. But as I continued reading, I understood the voice of Emily. Emily’s tale is exactly how a teenager would tell a story.(I have a teenager and sometimes she is hard to follow). What a unique way to weave a story.

    There were so many creative ideas in this book. I don’t want to give away the story, but the Emily Dickenson with Gilligan’s Island (yes, you heard me right) was a hoot. And yes….I tried it and IT WORKED. You must read the novel just to know about this. The Igloo made of plastic was another creative addition.

    I loved how the title tied into today’s events…another reason reading this novel is a must.

    This story is tragic as it is unique. There were places I had to pause to catch my breath. I was so afraid something would happen to Emily.

    Not everyone will enjoy this book as much as I did. It is a very different read, but, it is one that stays with you days after you finish.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2014

    A dark story

    Not my favorite by Chris, but very well written.

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