Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

July 7th, 2014 Kimberly Review 80 Comments

7th Jul
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
by Chris Bohjalian
Genres: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Purchase*: Amazon *affiliate
Rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

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 faultโ€”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. Emilyโ€™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 theย 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.

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About Kimberly
Kimberly is a coffee loving book addict who reads and listens to fictional stories in all genres. Whovian, Ravenclaw, Howler and proud Nonna. She owns and manages Caffeinated PR. The coffee is always on and she is ready to chat. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

80 Responses to “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian”

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I hope you read it Melissa. It is different from his previous books…but a fantastic read.

  1. Lorna

    I have never heard of this author, but this sure sounds really good. I may have to look into this one. Great review-thanks!

  2. Lark

    Wow, Kimba! What a great review! I’ve yet to read any of Bohjalian’s books but he’s definitely going on the TBR list. The way-too-overflowing TBR list. Stop writing such tempting reviews, Kimba, you’re undermining my resolution to reduce my TBR list! (LOL just kidding – keep writing your marvelous reviews!)

    • kimbacaffeinate

      *grins evilly * sorry ๐Ÿ™ I cannot help it.

  3. Teddyree

    Arggh you are dangerous to my groaning TBR pile. I have The Light in the Ruins to read and after reading your review for this one I’m pushing Chris Bohjalian to the top of my read list.

  4. Stephanie

    I read another positive review for Close Your Eyes Hold Hands and have decided to read something by this author, although I may pick an early book. Great review.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Enjoy Stephanie ๐Ÿ™‚ I haven’t read one I did not enjoy

  5. Steph from

    Chris is a great author, and a really nice person (I used to moderate his forum with a couple of other readers and met him in person a few times). And, I am sad I have gotten a way from reading his stories because of blogging since moderating the forum is what got me blogging. I thought SKELETONS AT THE FEAST was amazing and I do want to read this. I did not, unfortunately, see it on NetGalley.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      He is wonderful, very fan friendly. I need to read Skeletons at the Feast for sure then.

  6. ShootingStarsMag

    I know OF the author, but I’ve never read anything by him. This sounds quite interesting; that’s great you enjoyed it so much.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Thanks Lauren, this was unique and I loved the protagonist voice.

  7. Angela Adams

    Chris is an awesome novelist…but I may be bias because he lives in Vermont where I went to college (smile!). Thanks for the post.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      He is awesome, and so friendly with his fans.:)

  8. Lily

    Hmm i don’t think i’ve ever actually sat down to read literary fiction but this one seems like such a raw read. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live on the streets and i feel like this book would be intense

    • kimbacaffeinate

      It is raw, but it is also uplifting as you cannot help but be in awe of Emily’s strength.

  9. Heidi

    Oh yes, I think I would like Emily. I adore books where the character speaks to the reader. I have not read this author, but now I want to!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      LOL I take it you are a fan of Chris as well? Enjoy.

  10. Carmel

    After reading your review, you’ve left me with no choice but to try one of Bohjalian’s books. An adult YA, but not… interesting.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Yep, it has elements of dystopian, coming of age and more.

  11. Rita_h

    I wrote a review on this a week ago, and hesitated to use the word dystopian because in a way, it kind of, sort of isn’t. There is an isolated pocket of dystopia {online dictionary definition: “society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding”}. I was afraid that some folks would be turned off by that, or think it is YA (it isn’t), and miss the point that this also reads like literary fiction.

    In a nutshell: this book was hard to classify, but highly recommended for a read. I’ve read several by him and truly enjoy his style. Thanks Krista, for an awesome review! You did it justice with your enthusiasm.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I know exactly what you mean Rita, and while the protagonist is YA, this is an adult novel. I agree about not adding the dystopian..because while it has that kind of vibe, it is really more about Emily.

  12. Debbie Haupt

    Great review Kimba, I’ve read The Double Bind and though it’s not my favorite his storytelling is indeed worth a read.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I have that but haven’t read it yet. I love how he weaves a tale.

  13. Melissa (Books and Things)

    You have not sold the book to me… you sold me the author! Wait… that didn’t sound right. I think you know what I mean though. ๐Ÿ™‚ He is going on my must read author list!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      hahaha..I got ya. He writes suspense, mystery, domestic and historical fiction and it is wonderful.

  14. Kris

    This sounds like an interesting novel. I’m not much into literary fiction, but if I were to try one out, this sounds like a good place to start. Emily sounds like a fantastic narrator!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      This would be a good one, since it has a young protagonist and slight dystopian vibe to it Kris.

  15. Sophia

    Wowzers. O_O This sounds like it might be a heartbreaking read. I’m not TOO sold though. There’s something about emotional books and me. O_o

    • kimbacaffeinate

      While parts evoke sadness, it also has moments were you find yourself in awe of her survival skills and sheer determination. Thanks Sophia.

  16. Greg

    I like the idea of the MC talking right to the reader, that’s kinda different. Sound like a very powerful story and a great read.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      This was Greg, and I loved the dystopian vibe it had.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I loved that aspect and felt it worked for the tale. It was a departure from his other works, but I thought Emily’s voice was authentic.

  17. Candace

    I don’t read much literary fiction but I have to admit that I’m quite curious about this one. It sounds like a beautiful and powerful story. Fantastic review!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      This would be a good one to try Candace since it has both the young protagonist and a dystopian vibe to it.

  18. Jenea

    This sounds quite emotional and wonderful too. I haven’t read anything from Bohjalian before. Lovely review!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      It did tug at your heart strings, but you also are uplifted by how fearless she is despite being terrified.

  19. Katherine

    This sounds like quite a book. I normally don’t love when a character speaks directly to the reader but that’s only because it’s generally badly done. When it’s done right like it sounds like it was in this case it can be extremely powerful. It’s so lovely when a favorite author lives up to being a favorite author. I’ll have to read this one as well though I may wait until I have a chunk of time and am wanting a more serious book.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Agreed, but when it is done right and feels honest it is brilly.

  20. Jessica

    I am ashamed to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of this author. And you love him so much that you don’t even read the blurb before requesting his books. Definitely worth checking out. I’m glad he didn’t let you down! Wonderful review ๐Ÿ˜‰ Adding it immediately.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      This has a dystopian vibe to it, and is well paced. I think you will enjoy it.

  21. Christa

    I’ve only read The Night Strangers by this author but I’ve heard good things about all of his books. This one sounds really interesting.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I enjoyed that one Christa. The others I mentioned are historical.

  22. kindlemom1

    This sounds like it is beautiful Kim! I have to admit, the cover isn’t much but holy crud does it draw me in for some reason!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      They did a cover change after arcs went out,. I am not sure which I prefer but the tale was wonderful.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I love both his domestic and historical novels Tanya

  23. Ginny

    I usually try to refrain from just saying great review but sweetie this time I just can’t help it. Your review is LOVELY. You did an amazing job with it. Big hand clap to you!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Awe, you made me blush and to be honest I don’t feel like I did it justice. ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. Nick

    That’s interesting that this is an adult literary fiction novel but has a YA protagonist. I’m definitely curious. It also seems like the author captured the feelings of the MC very authentically. It’s always a great feeling when an author you love releases a book that you end up loving as well.
    Lovely review, Kim! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Yes Nick, and it has a dystopian feel to it.

  25. Jenny

    Hehe. I’ve absolutely requested a book from a beloved author without reading the synopsis before too Kim! Sometimes you just know you want to read something even if you don’t necessarily know what it’s about:) I haven’t read many books where the narrator is speaking directly to me, so I think that would be kind of different and interesting:) Thanks for putting yet another book on my radar!!!!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I am not alone..LOL This was brilly and I hope you get a chance to read it.

  26. Mary

    I’m not usually a literary girl (unless forced…) but I do like when a book strikes a chord and makes you think. The perspective alone would make me a bit twitchy, though it’s definitely intriguing how the story’s told.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      This has a dystopian vibe and could easily be labeled YA. I thought the perspective would make me twitchy, but I soon got caught up in the story.

  27. Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves)

    I feel the same way you do about Chris Bohjalian! He’s one of my favorite authors and I’ll read whatever he comes out with. I also loved this book and especially loved Emily Shepard. I’m posting my review next week.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      So glad you enjoyed this one too Sarah. I was so impressed by how authentic he made Emily’s voice.

  28. Franny

    I don’t think this is my cup of tea, but I’m glad you enjoyed it so much!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Thanks Franny, if you like dystopian novels you may be surprised.

  29. Silvia

    Well, this is certainly a different read and quite an interesting one. It must have been very good indeed if you made a personal mission to read all the novels. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kimberly!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I enjoy every journey he takes me on Silvia.

  30. Faye D'Social Potato

    Wow, your review was very heartfelt, Kimberly. It made me want to read this one so much, although I have a feeling Emily’s story will be breaking my heart to tiny little pieces. I can’t wait to read this one for myself! Hopefully it will touch me as much as it has touched you!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      At times it is heartbreaking, but I couldn’t set it down.

  31. Melliane

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a book by the author but I’m glad you love the books. And I totally relate about asking books without looking at the synopsis, I can easily do that as well, for the author or for the cover I confess. Well I just look if it’s part of a series or not.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      Thanks Melliane, there are a handful of authors whose books I will by without reading the synopsis.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      If you like dystopian novels I think this would easily draw you in Jennifer.

  32. Christy

    Oh wow … I just remembered that I read Midwives when I saw it mentioned up there. I totally forgot about that book. I remember reading not too long after graduating high school and really liking it. Crazy. Now I DEFINITELY want to read this book.

    • kimbacaffeinate

      I think you would like it Christy, I need to read Midwives.

  33. Jeann

    Woah, this book sounds like a really raw and honest story about living on the streets. I miss reading literary fiction because of all the YA, sometimes they are so completely beautiful. I love the way the story is presented as well. Lovely review Kimba!

    • kimbacaffeinate

      This was quite good Jeann and had a dystopian feel