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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Cover of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

A Novel

A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless teen living in an igloo made of ice and trash bags filled with frozen leaves. Half a year earlier, a nuclear plant in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom had experienced a cataclysmic 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 flee 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 apartment, and inventing a new identity for herself — an identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. When Emily befriends a young homeless boy named Cameron, she protects him with a ferocity she didn't know she had. But she still 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.
A story of loss, adventure, and the search for friendship in the wake of catastrophe, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is one of Chris Bohjalian's finest novels to date—breathtaking, wise, and utterly transporting.

A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the story of Emily Shepard, a homeless teen living in an igloo made of ice and trash bags filled with frozen leaves. Half a year earlier, a nuclear plant in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom had experienced a cataclysmic 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 flee 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 apartment, and inventing a new identity for herself — an identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. When Emily befriends a young homeless boy named Cameron, she protects him with a ferocity she didn't know she had. But she still 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.
A story of loss, adventure, and the search for friendship in the wake of catastrophe, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is one of Chris Bohjalian's finest novels to date—breathtaking, wise, and utterly transporting.

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  • From the book

    PROLOGUE

    I built an igloo against the cold out of black plastic trash bags filled with wet leaves. It wasn't perfect. The winds were coming across the lake, and the outside wall that faced the water was flat—not like the igloos I had seen on TV somewhere or I guess in a book. It looked like the wall on the inside of a cave: flat and kind of scaly. But the outside wall that faced the city looked round like a melon. I couldn't stand all the way up inside it, but in the middle I could crouch like a hunchback. It was big enough for three people to lie down if you curled up, and one night we had to squeeze in four. But most of the time it was just Cameron and me. I really had to trust the fuck out of someone before I would let them anywhere near Cameron in the night. But, the truth is, people came and went. You know how it is. Especially in the winter. But the igloo kept me warm. Warmer, anyway. I mean, it's not like I got frostbite. I knew kids and grown-ups who did. I knew one kid who got gangrene. They say the doctors had to cut off both of his feet, but I don't know that for a fact because I never saw him again.
    I'm going to try and tell you only the things that I know for a fact are true. When I'm guessing, I'll be honest and tell you I'm guessing.
    You build the igloos in the day when the leaves are soaked but the ice has melted from the sun, and then they freeze at night inside the bags. So does the water on the outside of the bags; that's why the bags stick together like glue.

    ******

    Some people said I left the shelter because someone must have tried to rape me. No one tried to rape me. I left for a couple of reasons. I mean, I did feel kind of hounded—by the other girls, one especially, but not by the people who ran the place. The "staff." Whatever. One of the girls was starting to suspect who I was, and I knew that once my secret was out, she'd turn me in. I thought she'd want no part of me. And you know what? I wouldn't have blamed her. A lot of days I wanted no part of me.
    Also, I knew the staff wanted me gone. Or, at least, they wanted to figure out who I really was. They were getting pretty frustrated because they couldn't find my parents. My story was starting to unravel. So, I just left.
    Given that I was always kind of—and here's a pretty awesome little euphemism—a troubled teen, it's a miracle that the counselors who ran the shelter didn't send me packing a lot sooner. It wouldn't have surprised a lot of people who knew me if I really had managed to get myself thrown out on my ass. But I didn't. That's not what happened. I was already plenty scared, and so I tried playing by the rules. I tried to behave. But it didn't work. And so it would be the last time I'd try for a while.
    This was back in the days when the city was still trying to figure out what to do with the walkers. Technically, I was a walker, even though I didn't walk. I stole a bike and rode to the city from the Northeast Kingdom. I don't know how many miles that is, but it took me two full days, because I hadn't ridden a bike since I was in, like, fourth or fifth grade. The worst was going up and over the mountains. I just walked the bike up the eastern slopes. That took an entire afternoon right there. One time a guy in a bread truck gave me a lift, but he only took me about twenty miles. Still, a lot of those miles were uphill, so I was grateful. Lots of people—most people—had families or friends in the city or the suburbs around Lake Champlain who could take them in. And people were taking in total strangers. Vermonters are like that. I guess decent people anywhere are like that. But there were still a lot of walkers just...
About the Author-
  • CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the critically acclaimed author of seventeen books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Sandcastle Girls, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah's Book Club. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter. Visit him at www.chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Grace Blewer, the author's daughter, gives a heartfelt portrayal of Vermont teenager Emily Shepard. The local nuclear plant has had a meltdown, and Emily's father, an alcoholic who worked there, may have been responsible. With both of her parents dead, Emily takes off on her own, finding herself in a dystopian world. Blewer captures all of Emily's complexity--her emotional troubles, her ferocious determination to protect a homeless boy she stumbles across, and her longing for her beloved dog. While on the run, Emily creates a new identity--inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. There's no doubt that listeners will know this book shines in the audio format when they hear Blewer singing a Dickinson poem to a popular tune. M.N.T. © AudioFile 2014, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 12, 2014
    Bohjalian’s (The Light in the Ruins) impressive 16th novel charts the life of a teenage girl undone after a nuclear disaster. Already troubled, rebellious Emily Shepard becomes orphaned and homeless after the meltdown of Reddington’s nuclear power plant in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Wandering aimlessly, she finds refuge in a local shelter with Cameron, a nine-year-old boy she soon finds herself protecting. Emily is banished once she’s pegged as the daughter of heavy-drinking parents both employed (and held responsible by surviving townsfolk) at the power plant where the meltdown occurred. Frequent flashbacks to her days at school and the youth shelter show her surrounded by influential miscreants, self-abusing “cutters,” and drug takers like friends Andrea and Camille. Stealing and shoplifting through neighboring towns in order to survive the frigid New England winter becomes an often harrowing ordeal for Emily and Cameron as she attempts to figure out her next move. Through her first-person narration, readers become intimately familiar with Emily (and Cameron), as she grapples with the frustrating life of a misunderstood homeless youth on the run. Emily continually surprises herself with her newfound maternal instincts for Cameron and how difficult it is to survive life on the streets. Her admiration for kindred spirit Emily Dickinson serves to humanize her plight, as does an epiphany in the book’s bittersweet conclusion.

  • Jodi Picoult "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."
  • Alice Short, The Los Angeles Times "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."
  • Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post "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."
  • Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today "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."
  • Curt Schleier, The Seattle Times "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."
  • Karen Campbell, The Boston Globe "A compelling tale of loss, resilience, and transformation . . . A page-turning intensity."
  • Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "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."
  • Best New Books, People Magazine "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."
  • Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post Dispatch "A 'must read' book . . . a brilliant story of a young woman living an unexpected life, making difficult decisions and dealing with an ugly aftermath."
  • Beth Colvin, The New Orleans Advocate "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."
  • Melissa M. Firman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "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."
  • Ellen Kanner, The Miami Herald "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."
  • Ann Levin, Associated Press "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."
  • Nicholas Addison Thomas, The Free-Lance Star "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
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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
A Novel
Chris Bohjalian
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