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Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.” Jane Yolen

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014


Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian
ISBN: 9780385534833 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780385534840 (ebook)
ASIN: B00HTMBEN4 (Kindle edition)
Publication date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Doubleday

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless girl living in an igloo made of garbage bags in Burlington. Nearly a year ago, a power plant in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont had a meltdown, and both of Emily's parents were killed. Devastatingly, her father was in charge of the plant, and the meltdown may have been his fault—was he drunk when it happened? Thousands of people are forced to leave their homes in the Kingdom; rivers and forests are destroyed; and Emily feels certain that as the daughter of the most hated man in America, she is in danger. So instead of following the social workers and her classmates after the meltdown, Emily takes off on her own for Burlington, where she survives by stealing, sleeping on the floor of a drug dealer's house, inventing a new identity for herself, and befriending a young homeless kid named Cameron. But Emily can't outrun her past, can't escape her grief, can't hide forever-and so she comes up with the only plan that she can.

Emily Shepard didn't have a perfect family life. Her parents drank too much, especially her father. They fought, usually about the drinking. But they provided Emily with everything a girl could ask for: a great education, travel, a wonderful home, and love (in between the drinking and fighting). All that changes when the nuclear power plant that her father is responsible for melts down and explodes. Suddenly her world is turned upside down and her parents are considered the biggest losers in the world. Is it any wonder that Emily decides to run to escape the chaos after this disaster?

What Emily doesn't know at age sixteen is that you can't run away from life. She quickly learns that her privileged life hasn't really prepared her for a life on the streets. She also learns that when you're down-and-out you're willing to do almost anything in order to survive. Emily learns that prostitution at the local truck stop can provide her with quick cash. She learns to work the system in order to get a bath, where you can hangout during the day, which shops she can shoplift from and which ones she can't. She makes up a life for herself and tries to drown her sorrows, fear and grief in drugs and self-mutilation. Over the course of nine months Emily learns how to survive on the streets and becomes a big sister/mother figure to another runaway, nine-year-old Cameron. Emily's carefully constructed life quickly disintegrates when another tragedy strikes. Will she be able to survive this latest tragedy or will she completely self-destruct?

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is presented in the form of journal entries by Emily as she reflects on her life after the power plant accident. Emily hints at the notion that she may have a mental health issue and she learns to self-medicate with drugs while on the street. Her reflections on the power plant accident, her journey to Burlington, her struggles to remake herself, the prostitution, the self-abuse or cutting, the stealing, the drugs and the friends she makes and loses could make for a disheartening story. However Chris Bohjalian is a master at telling a story that truly plucks at your heartstrings and uplifts at the same time. Emily's story could be the story of almost any teenager left without family or friends after a natural disaster, the only difference is her father is blamed for this disaster and it is by no means natural in origins. This wasn't an easy read and it shouldn't be given the themes that are discussed. Seriously, nuclear meltdown, radiation contamination, mass population exodus, teenage prostitution, teenage drug abuse, homelessness, and child and teen runaways aren't exactly light topics. Nonetheless, Mr. Bohjalian has crafted a story that deals with these dark themes and still provides the reader with a sense of hope that things will work out in the end. This isn't a story about good versus evil, but simply a story about self-awareness, self-acceptance, and survival. If you want to read a moving story that will make you think for hours, if not days or weeks, after reading it, then run out and buy a copy of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands now. Trust me, this is a great read!

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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1 comment:

  1. I loved this book...mainly because I loved the character of Emily Shepard. She was so matter of fact - especially about her bad decisions and didn't make excuses for her behavior. I also liked how he didn't overplay the "nuclear power plants are dangerous" card. He let the story speak for itself and it was much more powerful that way. My review will be up next week.