by Chris Bohjalian
Genres: Literary Fiction
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
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 girl living in an igloo made of garbage bags in Burlington. Nearly a year ago, a power plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont had a 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 leave 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 house, inventing a new identity for herself, and befriending a young homeless kid named Cameron. But Emily 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.
I first discovered Chris Bohjalian in 2011 when I read and loved his suspense thriller, The Night Strangers. Since then I have read two of his historical fictions The Sandcastle Girls and The Light in the Ruins. Each story is vastly different, beautiful, captivating and memorable. It seems no matter what story Bohjalian tells it is destined to entwine itself into my memory.
I am not going to lie; when I saw this title on NetGalley, I requested it without even reading the synopsis. It did not matter it was Chris Bohjalian!! When I began reading I was pleasantly surprised and a little shocked to hear the voice of sixteen-year-old Emily Shepard.
The tale begins in Burlington Vermont; Emily is homeless, living in a garbage bag igloo. It has been a year since the power plant her parents worked at had a nuclear meltdown and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont evacuated and quarantined. The press and the people blame the meltdown on her father.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is beautifully written and told entirely through the voice of our protagonist Emily Shepard. It is raw; at times, her voice bounces from thought to thought. She adores the poet Emily Dickinson and references her. Emily is wise beyond her years and at other times her age rings through. She takes us through the day of the meltdown, and offers flashbacks of life before the disaster. She does not hold back about her life after the accident. Life on the streets and the dark side to her suffering pour forth as she shares her story. It is genuine and at times hard to swallow. We learn about her fears, the friendships she makes and her journey back from this dark place.
Bohjalian is brilliant. Emily’s voice is authentic, and he impressed me with her voice. From her language to feelings, Bohjalian gave her life making her one of the most memorable and fleshed out characters I have ever encountered. Secondary characters were interesting, and influenced my emotions but it was Emily herself that held me captive. Her voice had me lost within the pages of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.
Readers will need to acclimate themselves as Emily speaks directly to the reader. Picture if you will sitting across from a young girl. She is fidgety, and from time to time, she stares off as if lost in her own thought. Then her gaze clears, and she refocuses on you. She begins telling you are story; she is animated, and often injects poems, thoughts and ideas. It is all fascinating and at times, it makes you squirm or want to hug her. Instinctively you know she will not like that. The hours tick away, and you become lost in her story. It sometimes seems surreal, but Emily has this raw honesty and somehow you know she has kept nothing back. Occasionally a memory manifests and she takes a break to share that tale with you.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is adult literary fiction, but the protagonist will introduce Bohjalian to older young adults. He is brilliant, and I am on a personal mission to read all of his novels. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands was gripping, raw and authentic. Emily Shepard is a character who will mark herself in your memory and Bohjalian is an author whose books you will reach for repeatedly.