Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Doubleday
From the publisher:
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.
While I haven’t read all of Bohjalian’s books, I have long been a fan of his work, and it’s entirely possible that Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is his best novel yet – and that’s saying a lot because I can’t think of a book I’ve read of his I haven’t loved. It’s been a week or so since I finished reading this book and I still can’t stop thinking about it (although I’ve finished a few books since).
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is heartbreaking and devastating and for most of the book it seems like it is not possible for anything good to happen to Emily, ever. What is amazing to me is how well Bohjalian got into the mind of a sixteen-year-old girl. While incredibly resourceful and intelligent, Emily’s thinking is clearly that of a teenager. Instead of turning to adults in her life for help (her friends’ parents, teachers, whoever), she is terrified by the potential that they will blame her for her father’s mistake, and instead runs away and becomes a homeless person who occasionally does drugs and sells her body for a place to sleep at night and/or something to eat. It’s obvious to the reader that if Emily had just let a trusted adult help her in those first few days after the fallout, her life could have been entirely different, but it’s impossible for Emily, in her teenage brain, to see that possibility.
But I’m not trying to downplay Emily’s choices – she truly felt that she had no choices and so she made the best possible life she could have. She made decisions out of fear, yes, but she was going through a terrifying situation that I cannot even imagine having to endure. She went from one day having a mostly great life to the next day every single element of that life had been taken from her. She then led a pretty desperate existence, but was so determined, so plucky and smart and tough and so many other things I could NEVER be – my admiration for her runs far and deep. I loved her.
I cried several times while reading this book. OMG THE DOG. (That’s all I will say about the dog.) This is an extremely dark, mostly sad, book, but in the end there is redemption and hope, I promise. You just have to make it through the muck and horribleness to get there.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is an emotionally difficult read but very worth it. It’s beautiful in its own way and Emily is a character you won’t soon forget. Highly recommended.