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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

4.1 36
by Chris Bohjalian

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A Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Best Book of the Year

Emily Shepard is on the run; the nuclear plant where her father worked has suffered a cataclysmic meltdown, and all fingers point to him. Now, orphaned, homeless, and certain that she’s a pariah, Emily’s taken to hiding out on


A Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Best Book of the Year

Emily Shepard is on the run; the nuclear plant where her father worked has suffered a cataclysmic meltdown, and all fingers point to him. Now, orphaned, homeless, and certain that she’s a pariah, Emily’s taken to hiding out on the frigid streets of Burlington, Vermont, creating a new identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. 

Then she meets Cameron. Nine years old and with a string of foster families behind him, he sparks something in Emily, and she protects him with a fierceness she didn’t know she possessed. But when an emergency threatens the fledgling home she’s created, Emily realizes that she can’t hide forever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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)
Kirkus Reviews
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
  “A compelling tale of loss, resilience, and transformation.” —The Boston Globe, “Pick of the Week”

“Suspenseful, provocative, often terrifying yet compassionate. . . . One of the most memorable teenage protagonists in recent fiction.” —The Washington Post

“Heartbreaking. . . . This is an adult novel . . . but readers of any age who love John Green’s novels might find [Emily]’s story, sobering as it is, an awesome one.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Stirring, sensitive. . . . One of the most authentic and distinctive voices since Emma Donoghue's [Room].” —San Francisco Chronicle
  “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.” —Jodi Picoult

“Chris Bohjalian is a master. . . . Emily Shepard is his greatest accomplishment.” —Los Angeles Times

 “A chilling and heartbreaking suspense novel.” —USA Today
“Enthralling and indelible.” —People
“Intelligent, rich in detail, filled with full-blooded characters…. Bohjalian at his finest.” —The Seattle Times
“A ‘must read’ book.” —St. Louis Post Dispatch
“Haunting and resonant.” —The Miami Herald

“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.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“A masterful storyteller . . . Bohjalian hits every note. His characters have depth, his story sings.” —The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA) 

 “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 . . . [with] a wry, honest voice as distinctive as Holden Caulfield's.”  —Associated Press
“Dazzling. . . .  A novel for the ages. . . . This is pure beauty in book form.” —The Free-Lance Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

“A potent story of loss, hope, and the overpowering yearning for home.”  —The Armenian Weekly
“Rings with poetry and truth.” —Library Journal

“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.” —Burlington Free Press
“[A] brave saga.” —Booklist
“Impressive. . . . [Emily’s] admiration for kindred spirit Emily Dickinson serves to humanize her plight, as does an epiphany in the book’s bittersweet conclusion.” —Publishers Weekly

“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.” —BookPage

“Emily’s voice is a compelling one… and hers is a journey readers will avidly follow.” —Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Even before catastrophe strikes the Cape Abenaki nuclear power plant that her father manages, 16-year-old Emily Shepard's world is less than ideal. As the child of alcoholics she's seen more drama than most people twice her age, but the ordinary insanity of life pales beside the reactor meltdown that turns Vermont's Northeast Kingdom into a wasteland. After losing her parents, home, and dog to the disaster that her father is suspected of causing, Emily is left homeless and alone except for the similarly dispossessed nine-year-old boy that she's taken under her wing. Before long, Emily is cutting herself to relieve her grief, isolation, and overwhelming fear of what she's supposed to do with the rest of her life. VERDICT No stranger to tough issues, Bohjalian tackles nuclear power, homelessness, and self-mutilation with his trademark sensitivity, careful research, and elegant prose. These are heavy subjects to read about—Emily's story is both heartbreaking and frightening, and even the final denouement is afflicted with sorrow. Nevertheless, the book rings with poetry and truth. Neither Bohjalian's fans nor book clubs will be disappointed. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]—Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


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.

Meet the Author

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.

Brief Biography

Lincoln, Vermont
Date of Birth:
August 12, 1961
Place of Birth:
White Plains, New York
Amherst College

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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
ABookVacation More than 1 year ago
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.
Fredreeca2001 More than 1 year ago
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.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Author Chris Bohjalian writes novels about serious subjects. “Midwife,” chosen as an Oprah’s book selection, was about a midwife accused of killing a mother during childbirth. “The Double Bind” told the story of a young woman attacked while riding her bike, and “The Sandcastle Girls” brought us into the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century as seen through the eyes of a female American aide worker.Bohjalian is particularly adept at writing strong female characters, usually facing some crisis. His latest book, “Close Your Eyes Hold Hands,” continues in that tradition, and is considered by many to be his finest book yet. “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands” is a heartbreaking novel, beautifully written by Mr. Bohjalian. He creates an unforgettable character in Emily Shepherd — perhaps his best yet. He said that his own teenage daughter helped him find Emily’s voice, and he brings her to vivid life on the pages. Weeks after finishing this book, I find myself still thinking and worrying about Emily and Cameron.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love Chris Bohjalian's writing. He is one of my favorite authors ever and this book, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, didn't disappoint. He tells an interesting story of a young girl trying to care for herself and a little boy after a nuclear plant melt down. His ability to add such life to his characters always makes me really enjoy his writing. Try any of his books and you'll be a fan, too.
Joyce More than 1 year ago
Love this author's creativity and writing style!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An absorbing read that you do not want to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As usual, Chris Bohjalian's books keep me turning the pages, waiting to see what happens next. this novel was no exception. The nuclear meltdown in a small town in Vermont is set in familiar towns and cities that he has written about before. He knows his area and his subjects well. His portrait of a teen trying to get back home was very well done although there is part about her pet that seemed a little too trite. Well worth reading
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a deep character development of the protagonist in a scene that was very real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another great book by one of my favorite authors. Different storyline really made me think about the effects of a nuclear disaster. It also gives insight into the world of the homeless. I would definitely recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it as with all Chris Bohjalian's books he brings you to an unbelievable place and then creates an amazing character to live in it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written, and VERY dark. Yet the protagonist's voice is so refreshing and matter-of-fact, and her attitude so poignantly hopeful, the reader has the feeling he/she is holding hands with Emily and yet doesn't dare to close eyes against the reality the struggling teen is facing, no matter how dark and difficult. Was it an "enjoyable" read? Not exactly....it's immersive rather than escapist. Was it a "valuable" read? ABSOLUTELY!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bought the book and came up bblank
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At first I liked the style of writing but as time went on I grew annoyed with it. This is a good story that had potential FOR SO MUCH MORE.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
I am not enamored by the writing of Chris Bohjalian, and this is my second attempt. This installation is a quasi-science fiction attempt, which leaves me feeling empty. The main characters is not likeable, and thus rests the story. First, I am not a fan of the science fiction genre, and therefore, I started off on the wrong track. The story starts very slowly, and seems to go nowhere.
MJSM More than 1 year ago
Classic Bohjalian story - well written, unexpected twists and always pause for thought between chapters. He is an extremely creative writer.  I find it most interesting that many of his stories are written from the female perspective. Always leaves me with a sense of a view with a different perspective on the normal.  
BrandyGirl More than 1 year ago
I read near all of this author's books and this is definitely one you should read. I am halfway through it and it is very good. I read near all of this author's books and this one is a must read. I am halfway through with it and it is very good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My first novel of 2015! Wonderful. I could not put this down. The main character is so real and her story engrossing. I have read many books by this author and he never dissapoints! Many times I felt deep emotions when reading this story - to me that is what makes a book wonderful. You read and become so involved in the story you react to what is going on. If you like novels that touch you, this one will do it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very different and really good dont be afraid to read
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago