Title: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday/Random House
Pub. Date: July 8, 2014
Genre: Adult/Coming of Age
Rec. Age Level: 17+
More by this author: The Sandcastle Girls, Midwives, The Double Blind
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Emily Shepherd is one of many displaced individuals who have had their lives shattered by the catastrophic nuclear meltdown in Vermont. Living in an igloo constructed of trash bags, struggling to keep her addictions in check, and fiercely protecting Cameron, a young boy she's taken in, sixteen-year old Emily's life before seems a world away. The country blames her parents, the nuclear plant's director and publicity manager, for the tragedy - and Emily by default. Terrified that the truth of her identity will ultimately be worse than life on the streets, Emily struggles to give up all vestiges of her past and embrace her bleak future.
I can't stop thinking about this book. It's a disaster novel that is characterized by its quiet intensity, rather than nonstop action. It's truly the characters - particularly Emily - that drive the novel.
My feelings about Emily are confusing, to say the least. I feel this overwhelming sense of protectiveness when I think about her, but, at the same time, she's completely exasperating and her shortsightedness made me want to throw my hands in the air. The truth of the matter is, she's just a kid - scared, confused, and utterly alone. She makes a lot of choices that, as a 20-something reader, I thought made the situation worse instead of better. I couldn't help thinking that she could have found a better Plan A, that living on the streets should have been Plan C maybe. But, when I imagine myself in her situation, suddenly parentless surrounded by panic and grabbing hands, I really do understand how one split-second decision can lead to another until you're somewhere you never imagined you'd be. Which, in Emily's case, means selling her body, cutting, doing drugs, and living in an igloo made of trash bags.
Though this novel is character and language driven, rather than action, it still leaves the reader with goosebumps. In fact, this might make it even scarier. I can't speak for everyone, but I tend to ignore the fact that the events that happen in Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, nuclear catastrophes like at Fukushima and Chernobyl, could happen in the US. Bohjalian creates a convincing situation in which this can and does happen, with terrifying and thought-provoking consequences.
Open to US mailing addresses only. Ends 9/12/14.