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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel Hardcover – July 8, 2014

4 out of 5 stars 414 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When a disastrous meltdown occurs at a Vermont nuclear power plant, forcing people to flee for their lives and face permanent exile from their beloved homes, everyone blames Emily’s parents. Her father was chief engineer, and her mother was the communications director, and they had a reputation for drinking. Terrified, Emily, a bookish, 16-year-old only child, runs away and ends up crashing in the squalid lair of a guy called Poacher, who recruits homeless teens for his drug-and-prostitution ring. But smart Emily, who knowledgeably reveres Emily Dickinson, gets it together once she takes responsibility for a nine-year-old boy on the run from foster care and builds a trash-bag igloo to protect them from the bitter cold. In his sixteenth novel, theversatile Bohjalian (The Light in the Ruins, 2013) has Emily tell her harrowing, tragic story retrospectively, under medical care. If only this well-meant and compelling tale offered more scenes depicting the shocking aftermath of a nuclear disaster to provide an even more arresting and significant context for traumatized yet tough and resilient young Emily’s sad, brave saga. --Donna Seaman


Praise for Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands:

A Boston Globe Pick of the Week

"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, of emotion, and of how – as Emily Dickinson might say – the sparest of words can hold a wealth of pain. If you need any proof that fiction can scare us, move us, and break our hearts simultaneously – look no further."
– Jodi Picoult

"Chris Bohjalian is a master of depicting the small moments — the inevitable routines — that follow in the wake of a trauma . . . Emily Shepard is Bohjalian's greatest accomplishment — when you turn the final page you will relish her real-ness and wonder if that twinge of disquiet will ever go away."
– Alice Short, The Los Angeles Times

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, Chris Bohjalian's terrific new novel, could serve as a master class on how to write the thinking reader's bestseller. Suspenseful, provocative, often terrifying yet compassionate . . . all while creating one of the most memorable teenage protagonists in recent fiction . . . Moving, hopeful and grounded in the everyday, and as heartbreaking as the inspiration for the novel's title.”
– Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post

“A chilling and heartbreaking suspense novel for readers who like the poetry of Emily Dickinson . . . Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is ambitious and poignant thanks to the voice of its teen narrator . . . It’s a novel about survival and the power of literature and poetry.” – Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"Bohjalian’s novels don’t lend themselves to easy summary. They are intelligent, rich in detail, filled with full-blooded characters. And Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is Bohjalian at his finest."
– Curt Schleier, The Seattle Times

"A compelling tale of loss, resilience, and transformation . . . A page-turning intensity." 
Karen Campbell, The Boston Globe

“Heartbreaking . . . scrupulously realistic . . . Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a novel for adults . . . but readers of any age who love John Green’s novels might also find Shepard’s story, sobering as it is, an awesome one.”
– Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Bohjalian’s inventive latest imagines a nuclear meltdown in Vermont. Sixteen-year-old Emily loses her father—the plant’s chief engineer—in the accident, and she flees the town to escape its vitriol. Though she ends up homeless, she never gives up on home. Emily’s voice is droll, her journey enthralling and indelible.”
Best New Books, People Magazine

“A ‘must read’ book . . . a brilliant story of a young woman living an unexpected life, making difficult decisions and dealing with an ugly aftermath.”
– Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post Dispatch

“A masterful storyteller . . . Bohjalian hits every note. His characters have depth, his story sings. It’s a book that works well for either teens or adults.”
– Beth Colvin, The New Orleans Advocate
"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.”
– Melissa M. Firman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"A powerful metaphor for a 16-year-old girl who has lost everything . . . haunting and resonant . . . Bohjalian has long endowed his characters with a spark of humanity, even in the midst of brutality."
- Ellen Kanner, The Miami Herald

“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, a passionate, intelligent girl equally capable of cutting herself with a razor blade and quoting Emily Dickinson, then explaining it all to us in a wry, honest voice as distinctive as Holden Caulfield's.” 
– Ann Levin, Associated Press

"Few authors can breathe life into fiction quite like Chris Bohjalian . . . Renowned for his sentiment-infused plots, the New York Times-best-selling author delivers yet another dazzling read. Our focus is on Emily Shepard, a wily Vermont teenager forced to live on the streets after her parents die in a nuclear explosion . . . Emily discovers what it means to survive the kind of turmoil that crafts character and keeps the heart pumping . . . At once mesmerizing and insightful, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a fresh take on typical Bohjalian fare, a novel for the ages that shows great depth and fictional flexibility. Yet again, Bohjalian creates a story that reminds us just how fragile life is and how powerful relationships can be when set against the backdrop of struggle. This is pure beauty in book form."
– Nicholas Addison Thomas, The Free-Lance Star

"Bohjalian is particularly adept at writing strong female characters . . . His latest book Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands continues in that tradition . . . considered by many to be his finest book yet . . . a heartbreaking novel, beautifully written."
– Diane Larue, Auburbpub.com

“With breathtaking prowess, Chris Bohjalian channels the character of a troubled teenage girl who struggles to survive after a nuclear meltdown . . . You cannot help but pause and marvel . . . A potent story of loss, hope, and the overpowering yearning for home.” 
- Nanore Barsoumian, The Armenian Weekly

“Despite his success, Bohjalian shows no signs of slowing down.”
– Zach Despart, Addison County Independent

“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.”
– Susan Green, Burlington Free Press

“A story that feels like it could be ripped out of the headlines . . . Bohjalian’s regular readers will find the same masterful storytelling they have come to expect, and the realistic and captivating narrator may attract a new audience just graduating from the ranks of teen fiction.”
– Brighid Moret, Communities Digital News

“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.”
– Karen Ann Cullotta, Bookpage
“Wrenching... Emily’s voice is a compelling one… and hers is a journey readers will avidly follow.”
– Kirkus

“In his sixteenth novel, the versatile Bohjalian has Emily tell her harrowing, tragic story retrospectively . . . [A] brave saga.”

"Emily's story is both heartbreaking and frightening . . . The book rings with poetry and truth." 
– Jeanne Bogino, Library Journal

“Bohjalian’s impressive 16th novel charts the life of a teenage girl after a nuclear disaster . . . Through her first-person narration, readers become intimately familiar with Emily . . . Her admiration for kindred spirit Emily Dickinson serves to humanize her plight, as does an epiphany in the books’ bittersweet conclusion.”
Publishers Weekly

“Bohjalian’s novels don’t lend themselves to easy summary. They are intelligent, rich in detail, filled with full-blooded characters. And Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is Bohjalian at his finest.”
The Seattle Times

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1St Edition edition (July 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385534833
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385534833
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (414 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #359,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lincoln, Vermont's Chris Bohjalian is the author of 18 books, most of which were New York Times bestsellers. His work has been translated into over 30 languages and three times become movies.

His new novel, "The Guest Room" -- a literary thriller about a marriage in crisis, two remarkable women, and human trafficking -- was just published.

His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.

His awards include the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; Russia's Soglasie (Concord) Award for The Sandcastle Girls; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans-Sister Radio; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah's Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He was a weekly columnist in Vermont for the Burlington Free Press from 1992 through 2015.

Chris graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife, the photographer Victoria Blewer. Their daughter, Grace Experience, is a young actor in New York City. Among the audiobooks she has narrated are "Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands" and "The Guest Room."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This novel introduces us to one of the most interesting characters I've read in a long time.

Emily Shepard is a 17 year-old homeless girl who tells her very unique story. The book is divided into two sections - B.C. (Before Cameron) and A.C. (After Cameron.) Cameron is the 9 year-old boy whom Emily takes under her wing after being homeless for a few months. Several months earlier, only child Emily was living with her parents who both worked at Cape Abenaki, a nuclear power plant in which her father was in charge. The plant melted down and both of Emily's parents were killed. The speculation is that Emily's father was at fault.

Hoping to avoid being questioned by authorities, and enduring the wrath of the families who are displaced, Emily runs away and takes on the alias "Abby Bliss." Emily is a devout fan of Emily Dickinson and references are made to Dickinson's poems throughout the book (Abby was a friend of Dickinson's.) It becomes clear that Emily has some mental health issues that were even apparent before the plant melted down. Emily tells of her life at a homeless shelter, living with a group of people known as the "posse" and living with Cameron in an igloo made of plastic trash bags. She also begins to self mutilate by cutting.

You can’t help but root for Emily, but she doesn’t make it easy at times. She is clearly troubled, yet intelligent and determined. Some of the things she endures are truly heartbreaking. The story never breaks stride and I found it completely engaging at all times.

This is arguably one of Chris Bohjalian's best books.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Though I consider myself a Bohjalian fan, I haven't read his last few - didn't want to read about a plane crash, and not a big fan of historical novels (though I respect him as a writer for trying something different).

The thing I loved about his early books was that I always felt I learned something new - midwifery, homeopathy, dowsing. He seems to have left that behind, but in this case it's not a disappointment.

Emily, the narrator and main character, just has such a great voice. She's engaging from the beginning, even though the way she tells the story is somewhat disjointed, it's a slow burn, requiring you to put the pieces together, rather than confusing.

The disadvantage of the strength of her voice is that the book is really, really dark, and Emily is not only caught in that darkness, but she is deeply broken and difficult to love. Topics the book deals with include: a nuclear disaster and multiple ensuing deaths, repeated and casual drug abuse, homelessness, cutting, rape, prostitution, child abandonment, crime, radiation sickness, mental illness, and alcoholism.

It is so well written that it's very readable, but I also found it unrelentingly dark. If you're a sensitive reader, it might be too much. But if you can handle that darkness, it's so beautifully done it's almost worth it.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )

Chris Bohjalian has always been a favorite of mine and once again he does not disappoint in his newest and I think his BEST book yet.

The unthinkable has happened in Vermont -- there's been a nuclear plant meltdown. Both Emily's parents work there and rumor has it that Emily's dad is to blame for this horrible catastrophic event which has killed almost twenty people, Emily's mom and dad included. People are forced to immediately leave their homes and belongings. The lands, rivers, and air surrounding the area are annihilated.

Emily is beside herself -- she has absolutely no family, she is totally and utterly alone during a major world disaster. Also, since her late dad is hated beyond measure, Emily fears she herself is in danger. Instead of going with her classmates and social workers who would help her, Emily takes off for Burlington, Vermont.

When she hits Burlington she hits rock bottom. In order to survive, she turns to stealing, gets involved in drugs, hangs out with some less than desirable people, and does things she never thought she would do all for a few bucks. She sleeps on the streets, crashes on floors, spends her days at the public library trying to stay out of trouble and warm.

Emily tells her story -- and what a story -- in the first person, a mode I love. Her story jumps back and forth, and really has no order or rhyme and reason. But this is how her story should be told! Bohjalian writes with such grace and ease that everything Emily tells us makes perfect sense, and her entire story all falls into place. At times, it is as if Emily is sitting right next to you, barring her soul and spilling her guts, telling what happened to her after that fateful day.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a powerful book written by a meticulous author. The subject is scary and heart wrenching and told from the point of view of Emily Shepard. She starts out as 16 years old, the only child of parents who work at a nuclear plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Her father, Bill Shepard, is the chief administrator of the plant and her mother, Mira, also works there as a communications specialist. Apparently, they are alcoholics and her father, has been disciplined for his drinking. When the nuclear meltdown occurs, her father is blamed for its cause. He is dead; he has no defense to offer. Her mother, too, is dead.

Emily is shrewd. She knows that the populous will most likely blame her or, at the very least, direct their anger at her. She is the daughter of the man who caused countless deaths, loss of property, economic ruin, and radiation sickness will soon be on the horizon.

Emily is also one of the most interesting fictional characters I have read. Chris Bohjalian crafted an erudite,
clever girl. She is capable of typical teen-age rebellion and yet will act as a cunning, amoral adult to survive. The poet, Emily Dickinson, plays a strong part in this novel. Her poems and the main character’s love of her short, meaningful verses sustain her and bring an original flow to the story.

Rather than enter a conventional environment after the meltdown, Emily, aka Abby Bliss, fends for herself on the streets. She sells herself for food and shelter. Bohjalian depicts two Emily’s: one is kind and cares for a 9-year-old foster child and keeps him safe. The other Emily is a drug addict and cuts herself out of self-loathing. In either one of these personalities, she can outwit the system and run from anyone.
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