28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Open Your Eyes, Read This Book,
This review is from: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel (Hardcover)
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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. She is capable of being alone and her insights make her powerful and she serves as an excellent commentary on nuclear catastrophes and the sheer inner conflict of missing her parents, her dog, Maggie, and the need of a friend.
I wouldn’t call the nuclear disaster enlightening. However, Emily is a singular protagonist, overcoming adversity, hate and love. Her ripe intelligence is emotionally overpowering as she links us to the realities of the post-meltdown system and her own deviant and awesome manipulation of that system. I felt like I was battling loneliness with her and her crushing desire for the life of her dog played out well in the novel.
This is Bohjalian’s finest novel to date. He pushes the reader back and forth in time. The flashbacks are often exhausting with emotion and helplessness. It is definitely not for young adults although the voice is one of a teen-ager. This is a violent tale of homelessness and wisdom. Highly recommended.