Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
I years had been from home,
And now, before the door,
I dared not open, lest a face
I never saw before
Stare vacant into mine
These words come from poet Emily Dickinson, but they clearly describe the life now lived by young Emily Shepard. The poem is about memory and change, the only things Emily has left.
I have seen bestselling author Chris Bohjalian's newest novel, CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, labeled as the story of a teenage runaway. I beg to differ. Emily never ran away from home --- her home left her. Growing up with upper middle-class parents who both worked for a local nuclear power plant, Emily attended an exclusive prep school in Vermont. They lived in the part of the state referred to as the Northeast Kingdom, and life was idyllic.
"Chris Bohjalian has created a heartbreaking and memorable story with a protagonist every reader will be rooting for."
Why is it then that the story opens with a young woman struggling to make an igloo out of garbage bags filled with wet leaves as she attempts to shelter herself against another harsh night out on the streets of Burlington, Vermont? It was a family tragedy that placed her in that predicament, so far from the life she had been living.
Emily was in class at the time of the tragic event. All she recalls is one of her favorite teachers warning the class to get into emergency mode and indicating that this was not a drill. Emily recalls that the term “close your eyes, hold hands” may have been used in the moments that followed and recognized them as the same instructions given during the tragic shooting at the school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.
The tragic event here is the meltdown of the nuclear power plant and mass evacuation of the surrounding territory. Everyone in the plant and immediate area are considered dead, including both of Emily's parents. What makes this an even more personal tragedy for Emily is the allegation that her father, the person in charge of the plant, not only was responsible for the meltdown but may have been drunk at the time.
Emily finds that her only option is to leave the now-quarantined area surrounding the power plant and Lake Memphremagog, and retreats to a life on the streets of the artistic and liberal part of the state called Burlington. It is here where she assumes a new identity --- as a girl called Abby Bliss --- in an effort to avoid questioning about potential association with the people responsible for the tragedy that affected thousands.
Above all, Emily desires to return home. She wants to see if her family dog somehow has survived in the quarantine zone. She also would like answers and a return to innocence she has lost forever on the streets of Burlington.
Chris Bohjalian has created a heartbreaking and memorable story with a protagonist every reader will be rooting for. Emily finds her solace in the words of Emily Dickinson, while we will find satisfaction in watching her attempt to recover all that she has lost.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on July 10, 2014
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
- Publication Date: July 8, 2014
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday
- ISBN-10: 0385534833
- ISBN-13: 9780385534833