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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel Hardcover – July 8, 2014
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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.”
“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
Top customer reviews
For starters, and finishers, there's homeless Emily Shepard - whose parents caused a nuclear disaster and who goes by the pseudonym "Abby Bliss." At 17, Emily has hardly been a remarkable success at life, even before the nuclear blowout, and even though her parents have provided her with the amenities of an upper-middle-class life. But despite being a chronic underachiever, and in ways a "bad" girl, she's smart as a whip, has empathy for other kids, is a survivor, knows when she's made a mistake, and is remarkably savvy when it counts. Some readers might consider Emily unrealistically savvy - okay for a fictional character, perhaps, but hardly true to life. I don't agree with that view, however. She went through some pretty depressing scenarios, which I found amazing - as opposed to my often inadequate, clueless reaction when I see homeless people on the street. Instead, her experiences gave me a new outlook on the homeless, and convinced me there's a lot more to homeless existence than standing on the street corner begging for money. A lot of it bad - very bad. But some of it at least can be cause for contemplation on the "meaning of life," and/or what really matters.
Cameron, Emily's 9-YO compatriot, can tear your heart out, and the way Emily cares for him shows her best side. But she doesn't always show the best judgment. Does that make her human - or the author way over the top in how he depicts her. I'll choose the former. See what you think. I rated another recent Bohjalian book - "A Light in the Ruins" - 4-1/2 stars, and "Close Your Eyes..." cements him in the category of authors automatically to be read without hesitation.
This is a suspenseful, entertaining read that rises above sentimentality to address consequences of bad choices between the smart way and the right way. The protagonist did what she had to do to survive and remain true to herself. This is above all a story about courage.