Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (July 8, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0385534833
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

Emily Shepard is a sixteen year-old only child of parents who work at a nuclear plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. She has her fair share of struggles: her parents have been alcoholics most of her life.  This isn’t a secret; everyone knows of Emily’s plight. When a meltdown at the nuclear plant occurs, her father, the chief administrator, is blamed. Both he and Emily’s mother, a communications director, are declared missing after the meltdown, assumed dead.

Emily is certain that others will blame her for her parents’ actions. Lives have been lost, property destroyed, a community devastated all at her parents’ hands. Rather than seeking refuge and safety with others, she lives on the streets, surviving by selling her body. She has a passion for Emily Dickinson novels, and takes the name of one of Dickinson’s friends, Abby Bliss, as her own.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is told from Emily’s standpoint. This isn’t your typical post-disaster novel, for rather than following the saga post-disaster, readers follow Emily through her journey through self-destruction and survival.  She alternates between past and present, the reader playing witness to two seemingly very different characters.  One Emily is strong, caring, and considerate. The other, more destructive Emily, cuts herself, abuses drugs, and has no qualms in giving up her body in order to survive.

Emily’s character, while not admirable at all, is quite dynamic.  Not only has she survived the loss of her parents and family dog, but every scrap of normalcy. She is surrounded by destruction and devastation, reflecting on the calm, yet stark beauty of Dickinson poems to sustain her.  Her choices aren’t always the best, yet despite any evidence pointing toward self-destruction, Emily wants to live. On her own terms, after finding her own answers, she does want to live. She craves a normal life and forgiveness for all the damage her parents have done.

I know I’m not shocking anyone when I mention the talent of Chris Bohjalian. A fan of all of his sixteen novels, I know when I pick up on of Chris’s books that I’m going to be surrendering my heart and soul to that book. This is certainly the case with Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.  Bohjalian captures Emily with such eloquence that it haunts me. Obvious suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Emily not only captures the reaction of one teen girl in this particular incident, but of the response of anyone after a devastating incident.

For this reason, an obvious one in my belief, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is, in a large part, a dark and difficult book to read.  Yet this is just another piece of evidence of Bohjalian’s brilliant and talented writing. He’s not going to sugar-coat real life, loss and devastation. He expresses it realistically, not covering it with a shroud of happiness and hope.  That’s not to say that this is a novel devoid of hope; for at the end of Emily’s difficult journey readers are granted a feeling of hope, of a future.

The feeling I experienced while reading this novel were bittersweet. The darkness I felt was reminiscent of feelings experienced after many of the devastating acts that have befallen our country, like 9/11 and others. This is Bohjalian’s intent…the title has direct ties to a very recent horror our country faced. I won’t give it away, for that revelation is a turning point that each reader must experience themselves.

While the main character of this novel is a teen girl, I would in no way classify this as a young adult novel. The tone, language, etc. are definitely that of an adult novel. That’s not to say that more mature teens should avoid this, but with the understanding there are some rather mature scenes and language throughout the book.

It goes without saying that I highly, highly recommend this book. It is one with a lasting message, one that will haunt you long after you finish the last pages. You’ll close the book and want to recommended it to someone, just so you can have the shared experience in discussing it. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a book you will hear a lot about this summer, one that you should not miss.

2 thoughts on “Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian

  1. I loved this book as well and Bohjalian is one of my favorite authors. I actually loved the character of Emily Shepard..I thought she was matter of fact about her bad decisions and never made excuses. I loved the vacillation between her sweetness and self-destructiveness…I felt it was a realistic portrayal of a teenage girl. I also loved how Bohjalian didn’t rant and rave about the dangers of nuclear power plants…he really just let the story speak for itself, which made it more powerful in my eyes.
    My review will post next week.



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