Published July 8th 2014 by Doubleday
Hardcover, 288 pages
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.
This book made my heart hurt. I was gripped right off the bat as Emily begins by telling the reader about building her trashbag igloo. Emily is not a character that will give you warm fuzzy feelings. She’s become a street kid doing what she has to do to survive. She lies and steals, she’s dirty and she makes some very poor choices; but she just tugs at your heart because she should not have ended up in the places she’s been. By fleeing the Northwest Kingdom she ends up in a destructive spiral of drugs and self-injury to numb herself from the not only the death of her parents, but knowing her parents are being vilified as the cause of the nuclear plant meltdown.
Emily tells her story in a totally random manner, flashing from the present, to the day of the plant explosion, to her igloo days and then back to the past. This perspective made me feel like I was even more in her head so I really enjoyed it, but I know this kind of storytelling doesn’t work for everyone. I found it built my anticipation because Emily would hint about events to come and I really wanted all the details right away. I don’t skip to the end of books-EVER-but I was tempted to here because I just wanted to know if Emily would be okay!
I was totally lost in Emily’s story and I’m still amazed at Chris Bohjalian’s ability to tell this story from the perspective of a 16 year-old girl. You can feel her post-traumatic stress coming through the page. You’ll want to reach into the book and offer help and a hug to Emily and the other homeless kids that she crosses paths with. You will also cringe from the raw pain and desperation in this story. Despite the pain and the sadness I still ended this book feeling hopeful for Emily because you can also feel the love in this story -for Emily’s lost parents, for her dog and for her friends. This is one that is going to stick with me for a while.
Thank you Doubleday and edelweiss for this advance read copy in exchange for an honest opinion.