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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

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A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the best-selling 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.

©2014 Chris Bohjalian (P)2014 Random House Audio

288 pages, Hardcover

First published July 8, 2014

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About the author

Chris Bohjalian

35 books11.2k followers
Chris Bohjalian is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 24 books. His work has been translated into 35 languages and become three movies and an Emmy-nominated TV series.

His new novel, THE LIONESS, roars May 10, and is already in development for a limited TV series. A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood star and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller, about which the New York Times wrote in its spring preview, "Bohjalian steers this runaway Land Rover of a story into some wildly entertaining territory."  

Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist all gave it starred reviews.

Jodi Picoult said, "THE LIONESS feels like the best possible combination of Hemingway and Agatha Christie -- a gorgeously written story about the landscape and risks of Africa, whose edge-of-your-seat plot makes it impossible to put down. Bohjalian just gets better and better.”

His 2021 novel, HOUR OF THE WITCH, is now on sale as a paperback. It's a tale of historical suspense set in 1662 Boston, a story of the first divorce in North America for domestic violence -- and a subsequent witch trial. Diana Gabaldon in her review in the Washington Post called it "historical fiction at its best." Danielle Trussoni in the New York Times called it "harrowing."

His 2020 novel, “The Red Lotus,” is a twisting story of love and deceit: an American man vanishes on a rural road in Vietnam and his girlfriend, an emergency room doctor trained to ask questions, follows a path that leads her home to the very hospital where they met, and is also in development for a TV series. In the New York Times, Sarah Lyall called it, “Terrific. . .[an] elegant noose of a plot. . .Bohjalian is a pleasure to read. He writes muscular, clear, propulsive sentences. . .As suspenseful as it is, The Red Lotus is also unexpectedly moving — about friendship, about the connections between people and, most of all, about the love of parents for children and of children for parents. Bohjalian is a writer with a big heart and deep compassion for his characters.”

His 2018 novel, “The Flight Attendant,” debuted as a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and National Indiebound Bestseller. It is now HBO Max TV series, starring Kaley Cuoco.  Season two landed in April 2022.

He is also a playwright and screenwriter. He has adapted his novel, “Midwives,” for a play, which premiered January 21, 2020 at the George Street Playhouse, and was directed by David Saint. Broadway World said of it, “The fine playwriting by Bohjalian, the directorial talents of the Playhouse’s Artistic Director, David Saint, and the show’s accomplished cast make this play unforgettable.”

His first play, “Grounded,” premiered at the 59 East 59th Theatres in New York City in the summer of 2018 and is now available as an audiobook and eBook, “Wingspan.”

His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.

His awards include the Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts; the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; Russia’s Soglasie (Concord) Award for The Sandcastle Girls; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans-Sister Radio; a Best Lifestyle Column for “Idyll Banter” from the Vermont Press Association; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives,was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has written

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5 stars
3,178 (18%)
4 stars
6,544 (38%)
3 stars
5,289 (31%)
2 stars
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1 star
448 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,559 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,922 reviews35.4k followers
July 17, 2014
2.5 to be honest! I like this author 'a lot' --I've enjoyed all of his other books --yet this book just does not feel authentic.

Its not a 'horrible' book....but its 'off'.

I'm not sure that 'anything' I write will be the 'reason' for the 'off-ness' or not. I'm not a writer. (but this book is lacking feeling). A reader can only be 'talked-to' for so long. I felt like I was being 'talked-to' this entire novel --with almost no emotion --it feels borderline rude.

Right from start of this novel we learn that Emily is an only child --(of parents who were both only children). No other mention of this was said during the novel...(no ties with the story anyway).
I was left thinking:
... "I know this author does his research" --
... "but did he dive into research about 'only children"?
... "I'm not so sure" --
... "Emily, 16 years old --does not fit 'the voice' of an only child. (even with a mental illness in my opinion). A bright girl --well read, such as Emily, does not need to 'act' like she is 12 or 13. Her 'entire' voice felt like a 12 or 13 year old girl.
...Also: I've raised daughters --(I taught Phys. Ed. to teen girls) --We had tons of girls in this house for years. Not 'one' 16 year old girl I knew (with or without a mental illness) --talked the way Emily did in this book. 12 maybe?/!

But....back to this story:
...With Emily's mental illness -- she self-medicates with cutting, smoking pot, having sex with truckers, stealing,... --
the problem is ...we, (as readers), want to 'care' and feel something --for this girl. Yet ---because the pacing of Emily's voice is often ongoing rambling ---this story just feels boring and somewhat annoying.

To mix a story about a nuclear disaster with a disturbed teenager -- (sounds to me --as if it has possibilities) --- but the tone was lacking sincere passion.

There was one place in the book where I became fully 'awake' --(ready to have my 'guts-in-knots' with a wide range of emotions) ---
but damn --if, it did not fall short--
It was the part when there was reference to the massacred of the children and teachers at the elementary school in Newton, Connecticut --giving us 'depth' to the title of this book. .....
Yet---nothing more was developed ---

I like a good contemporary book! I love "Double Bind" by Chris Bohjalian. -- but I'm not inspired with this one, nor any new insights.

Who is the audience for this book? Adults? or Young adults? I'm really not sure either is a perfect match.

Profile Image for Betsy Hetzel.
114 reviews1 follower
December 24, 2014
This book has ALL the makings of a gigantic tear-jerker: the teenage, female main character's parents are killed in a nuclear plant explosion, her alcoholic, engineer father is blamed and she, Emily, their only child, is vilified. She winds up in shelters so she has something to eat, in apartments w/ druggies who "force" her into prostitution so she has someplace to stay, and when these fail, she's out on the streets building an igloo w/ leaves held together by ice and pilfering/stealing what she can to survive, taking but an occasional shower at the local Y. She befriends a run-away nine year old abused foster boy whom she considers her responsibility and when he falls ill w/ encephalitis, she takes him and must leave him at the hospital, all the while cutting herself w/ her Exacto knife and remembering poems by Emily Dickenson. Did I say that she "lost" her precious dog Maggie the day the nuclear reactor exploded?
I thought that I would be a tear-stained mess reading ALL that Emily had to go through and endure yet.... I FELT nothing. I was TOLD all these horrible things, but there were no feelings expressed and that, for me, was the flaw: the book lacked feeling.
However, I will amend this statement slightly because in the latter part of the book when Emily returns to what remains of her home and, one day, miraculously, her dear dog Maggie returns to her, that reunion did cause a lump in my throat; perhaps my feelings were more for Maggie who was in bad shape.
Also, when the explanation of the title of the book was revealed, the lump in my throat grew even bigger. The author reminded us of the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, and as the children exited the building, so that they would not see the slain bodies of their classmates, the teachers told them to, "Close your eyes, hold hands." Heart-breakingly poignant.
Was it the 1st person narration of Emily that was so devoid of feeling that I too felt nothing? OR, was it simply just being told, again and again, like a laundry list of unpleasant actions w/ no accompanying feelings expressed that turned it off for me? I wish that I could better explain this emptiness that I felt, and I hope that you might understand what I'm trying to distinguish between TELLING and FEELING.
I have enjoyed other Bohjalian books but will have to remain disappointed w/ this one. And, I realize that I will be in the minority here again with this review. Sorry, but so be it.
26 reviews21 followers
January 21, 2014
Emily Shephard will break your heart. In CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, author Chris Bohjalian has created an amazing portrait of a teen in crisis. After being orphaned by a nuclear disaster for which her father may have been responsible, Emily sets off on the run. She needs a protector, a family, an adult. Instead,she faces a series of catastrophic choices that lead her deeper into danger. Her only support during this time is the poetry of Emily Dickinson, in whom she finds a kindred spirit.
In this novel, Bohjalian offers a glimpse into the mind of a traumatized young woman. His first person narrative voice is on target and incredibly authentic. Particularly moving is the subplot about the transformative power of literature, and how poetry can save your soul. I loved this novel. Set aside a few hours to be swept away. You won't want to leave Emily alone for a minute.
This is sure to very popular on the book club circuit and will also find an audience with older teen readers.
Highly recommended.

Profile Image for Stephen Kiernan.
Author 10 books865 followers
February 12, 2014
Eighteen books into his career. Chris Bohjalian has created his wisest and most compelling narrator ever.

Emily Shepherd has survived the meltdown of a nuclear plant in her Vermont hometown, but the accident has left her orphaned, homeless, and on the run from people seeking a scapegoat for the disaster. By the bottom of page two she will have you hooked, and rooting for her, as life gets harder and a 16-year-old's capacity for survival is tested in all directions.

A clear-eyed examination of teenage street life, and a thought experiment about nuclear disaster that never once turns preachy, this novel is one of Bohjalian's best -- on a par with Midwives or Sandcastle Girls.

I read an advance review copy. It took three sittings.
Profile Image for Kelli.
844 reviews392 followers
May 24, 2016
This story did not work for me at all. It seemed like part of a story to me, the middle part mostly, as if someone had ripped out a large chunk of a diary: a little disjointed, a little hard to follow, very difficult to connect to. The bones of a fantastic story were there but the way it was executed left me feeling very little. I was most affected by the explanation of the title, which had little to do with the story yet it shook me to my core. Beyond that, it felt factual and cold. 2 stars.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,465 reviews9 followers
January 29, 2016
This audiobook was read by Chris Bohjalian's daughter Grace, and I for one think she was superb.  At the end the two of them discussed how she helped him get the teenage jargon just right; but they both agreed, as do I, that Bohjalian all on his own is amazingly talented at channeling females in distress. Surprisingly good.  He does it all the time.  Now we have him perfecting the personality of teenager Emily Shepherd in Vermont after her parents are presumed killed in a meltdown of the nuclear  power plant where they were both employed.  Emily recounts from her journal entries how she travels around in the aftermath (afterglow in some places), just  trying to survive and find out not only if her mom and dad died, but if her alcoholic dad could have  been responsible for the meltdown, drunk on the job. She has to change  her name so she won't be associated with him.  Along  the way  she learns  to be a responsible young adult, but has to get some other things out of her system first.

Emily's favorite poet, and I guess Bohjalian's too, is Emily Dickinson, of whom I am not a fan.  A good deal of Emily's journal entries are comparing herself to that other Emily. But my favorite part of the book was when she joked that most if not all of Dickinson's  poems can be sung to the theme from Gilligan's Island. Try it...

Because I did not stop for death,
It kindly stopped for me.
The carriage held but just ourselves
And immortality.

A three hour tour.

Anyway, if that was the best part of the book, I have to say this is probably my least favorite by this author overall. I still have to give it 3.5 stars for C.B.'s storytelling abilities, and his sensitivity to female struggles.
Profile Image for Connie Cox.
286 reviews180 followers
February 3, 2017
Just finished....not my favorite of his....review to come.

I love Bohjalian and think he is a masterful storyteller, but for whatever reason I just did not connect to this book. I didn't emotionally connect to Emily/Abby, nor to very many of the other characters. The journal style of narrative did not especially grab me either. I felt this bounced around way too much that I just never really cared about what was coming next. .

Good writing but I never invested myself into these characters or their story. A bit disappointed.
Profile Image for Patrice Hoffman.
552 reviews256 followers
July 13, 2014
After a brief hiatus due to personal issues, I tried to get back into Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands but never quite could. It's not to say that Chris Bohjalian's writing isn't good, or that the novel isn't interesting. It just seems that I could never reacquaint myself with the narrator Emily Shepard. I will do my best...

Emily Shepard introduces herself by telling readers of her life in an igloo as a homeless child. One horrific accident, involving her parents caused her to be in that position. Both her parents work in a nuclear power plant in Vermont where a Chernobyl-like event happens. The whole town of Cape Abenaki is forced to evacuate due to radiation. In less than a few hours, her father, an engineer, and her mother, a communications director, are the most hated people in America since alcohol may have played in the disaster as well. Fearing that she may be as well, Emily decides to create a new past.

Emily splits the story into two sections. One is BC, before Cameron and AC, after Cameron. Cameron is a nine year old she comes to look after while she is on the streets of Vermont. He too has been dealt a bad hand, having been placed in one bad foster home after another. Cameron gives Emily's life purpose finally. Before Cameron, she was somewhat of a trouble-maker and essentially being a teen.

I usually don't read too much Young Adult fiction. There's something about the teen voice and the "me, me, me" thing that really grates on my nerves. Bohjalian took care not to make me regret picking this up. Emily's voice isn't the norm, although much of that can be due to the fact that she's lost so much. She's wise beyond her years yet so damaged. Readers will instantly know that somethings wrong with her mentally and will want to protect her from the world and herself. Seeing Emily do well is what kept me reading on.

As I mentioned, I had a week long hiatus from any serious reading and once I did pick this back up, I just couldn't really focus. It's not due to Bohjalian's writing at all. Overall, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is a formidable coming of age story that may tug at the heartstrings. The story of Emily Shepard is one that should not be missed.

Copy provided by Doubleday via Netgalley

Profile Image for Pam.
550 reviews48 followers
August 18, 2016
Emily is telling her story in only a way that a seventeen year old girl can tell. It is, at times, a bit random and very Double Bind (ish). The title of the book, too, seems a bit random and confusing until it is revealed. And, boy oh boy, when it was revealed, it took my breath away. A quote from the book (w/o giving anything away), "It seems to me that if you didn't know the context of those words, they were kind of pretty."

I had the opportunity to meet Chris this past summer at a book reading for The Sandcastle Girls at the St. Louis County Library Headquarters. I was in such a state of excitement that I found myself as giddy as any teenage schoolgirl with a crush. Thank you for that, Chris!

I highly recommend this book and many thanks to Doubleday and Edelweiss for giving me the opportunity to read this. Expected publication for this bad boy is July, 2014 and I will be buying this for my bookshelf.
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
725 reviews1,763 followers
August 13, 2016
This was so different from the two Bohjalian novels that I've read but I really liked it!!! I really enjoyed the journal type format... felt that it added authenticity to Emily's story!!! Which was raw... emotionally gripping and believable!!! Her character was easy to get behind and root for!!! The explanation behind the title was very well placed and could not have had the same significance if it had been done any other way... that was masterfully done!!! Strong 4 stars...
Profile Image for Po Po.
171 reviews
November 22, 2014
Not horrific, but not good either. Just meh. Inauthentic troubled teen girl voice. Felt seriously contrived.

One disaster follows a clusterfuck follows a fiasco follows a colossal mess. I suppose if you like daytime TV, you might like this.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,723 reviews6,663 followers
July 10, 2014
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is the first novel I have read by the author Chris Bohjalian. It was not what I expected at all; it's a dark story and I wasn't prepared for the themes it presented. The world building of this dystopian/post-apocalyptic tale is excellent and the character development is well done, so good that parts were hard to read. This story is told narration style by the lead character Emily Shepard. This teenager's world has literally fallen apart. She has nothing but her name, and the slight mention of her name in public puts her in danger so she doesn't even have that anymore. She's attempting to survive emotionally and physically the best way she knows how. I could hear Emily's voice through the writing style, as the story was told with some distractions, spontaneous stops and starts, and terminology typical of a teenager. Emily is resilient, tough, and honest, and she loves Emily Dickinson. I enjoyed her as a main character. Personally, I wouldn't re-read this book though. It's well done, it just felt too real which really says something for the author. Please note that this is not for young adults! The main character may be young but this story deals with very adult themes.
Profile Image for Karen.
626 reviews97 followers
August 20, 2014
Disclosure: I got this book as a prepub at ALA, but ended up not reading the print version. Instead, I listened to the audio book from my library. Spoilers throughout!

So, I admit that I grabbed this one on the basis of a quick skim of its back matter, and that I made some mistaken assumptions about its nature overall. The blurb leads with Emily, a teenaged girl who lives in an igloo made of garbage bags, in the aftermath of a nuclear reactor meltdown in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. Sounds sort of alternate universe/apocalyptic, yes? I thought so, and I loved the idea of a down-and-out female narrator struggling to survive against a post-nuclear backdrop.

And yet that's not really what this book delivers...or at least it doesn't deliver it to my taste.

Profile Image for Nicky.
63 reviews3 followers
July 4, 2014
I received this book from a first reads giveaway. I was looking forward to it because I had read "Midwives" years ago and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this book was somewhat of a disappointment.
The story is told by teenage Emily, who has been orphaned by a nuclear reactor disaster. Both her parents were employees at the facility, and it appears her father, perhaps in a drunken state, is responsible for the meltdown.
The story follows Emily's journey for the next year or so, as she makes one bad choice after another. While the story had a lot of potential, it really fell short for me. The book is under 300 pages, yet it is extremely repetitive.
Because the story is told from a teenage girls view, it's told in a sort of choppy voice, which actually comes across as fairly authentic, but the story skips around so much that sometimes it is hard to keep up. That was actually Bohjalian's intent- but it doesn't work for me.
Overall, a mildly entertaining read, but Bohjalian should have focused more on quality than cranking out yet another novel.
Profile Image for Branwen Sedai *of the Brown Ajah*.
971 reviews171 followers
August 23, 2014
I once read a short story about these four guys who've survived a shipwreck and are now in this open boat, and they can see the shore and people on the shore can see them, but the people on the shore don't realize these four dudes are exhausted and in serious trouble because they can't reach the beach. The guys in the boat are in danger of drowning, and the morons on the beach are waving at them because they have no idea. That's sort of how I feel most of the time: I was out at sea in this little boat and probably going to drown, and no one had any idea. No idea at all.

When Emily Shepard's parents end up being responsible for the meltdown of the nuclear power plant in their Vermont community, Emily opts to run away and make it on her own instead of seeking help from the police or authorities. She is afraid of being held accountable for her parents negligence which led to the meltdown in the first place. She lives for months on the street, until coming across nine year old Cameron, a runaway from the foster care system.

I read The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian a few years ago, and it was so creepy in such a deep psychological way that I still think about it sometimes and it gives me the shivers. Close your Eyes, Hold Hands is probably going to affect me similarly in the future, not because it was scary or terrifying, but because it was so emotionally jarring. This is a hard book to get through. There are a lot of issues that are being addressed or at least mentioned; drug use, cutting, underage sex, teenage homelessness, radiation poisoning. But really, at its heart, this is a book about survival. What it takes to survive a traumatic situation, and how one copes with it. So many heart-wrenching things about this book, but I feel like it will always stay with me if at least for the fact that underneath all the sadness, there always remains a glimmer of hope.

Maybe I wanted to be alone. Maybe I just didn't want to be social because antisocial people have a whole lot less to lose...
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,733 reviews327 followers
July 4, 2016
Book on CD narrated by Grace Blewer.

Emily Shepard is a troubled teen. Totally understandable, given that she’s been orphaned by a nuclear plant disaster where both her parents worked, she’s homeless, and she’s one of the most reviled people in Vermont, if not all of America. This is her story.

The novel is told as a series of journal entries, or writings encouraged by a therapist to help the writer (Emily) understand how she came to this point in her life. Opening line: I built an igloo against the cold out of black plastic trash bags filled with wet leaves.. This gave me the sense that this was going to be a post-apocalyptic novel. But it isn’t post-apocalyptic, or not for everyone; the world doesn’t change for everyone, though it definitely changes for Emily. The disastrous melt-down at the nuclear plant where both her parents worked has resulted in thousands of people being displaced and serious questions asked about how this could have happened. One name keeps coming up – Emily’s father, who was known to have a drinking problem and is rumored to have been drunk on the job. So rather than stay with her classmates in their evacuation center, Emily sets out on her own.

The story moves back and forth in time, as she recollects and records the events and decisions that led her to where she is when she��s writing it down. Like many teens – especially teens using drugs or alcohol, or with poor impulse control, or serious self-doubt – Emily’s recollections are not linear. She bounces from subject to subject, introducing characters and then saying, “but I’ll explain later.” She also has issues with trusting authority figures and may not be telling the entire truth all the time, in an effort to shield herself, her parents or her companions. To say she’s an unreliable narrator is putting it mildly.

Often, I was irritated with her, but I grew to like her and root for her. She was intelligent, resilient, tried to be responsible, and very vulnerable. By the end I was so worried about her I cried out when it was over … I wanted to know what is next for her and I was afraid to know.

Grace Blewer does a fine job narrating the audio version. Blewer is Bohjalian’s daughter, and she helped him with the slang and cadence of speech so that he could write in a more-believably-teen-aged voice. The audio has a bonus interview with author/father and narrator/daughter which was very informative.
Profile Image for Marti.
2,857 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2014
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian is beyond my meager words to describe. I found it to be provoking, poignant, unpredictable (which is to be expected with a teenager as a main character) and unforgettable. I think we often forget how much teenagers feel and how things can be so over the top with them.

Emily’s parents work in the local nuclear reactor. She is an only child who has been lashing out at her parents for their attention and about their drinking. Her favorite companion is Maggie, a black lab. Little does she know in the matter of a few hours she will lose everything. The book focuses on Emily’s time when she was alone. Her battles for survival with pain, loneliness, emptiness, and homelessness will eat at you.

How Chris Bohjalian takes us on this journey is the most remarkable part of the story. This is not a light summer read. It is not a lazy day read. It is a condemnation of our current human paths. He manages to simultaneously focus our attention on homelessness, cutting, the dangers of nuclear reactors, and Emily Dickinson’s poetry.

This book is going on my “can’t let go” shelf. That shelf is full of books that I find myself thinking about long after I put the book down. The books on this shelf tend to show a side of humanity that is either not shown often or a side I had not considered. I find myself realizing that everything is not black and white. Every subject has many sides and perspectives. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands shows us true tragedy and our ability to survive.

*The title comes from what the teachers told the students at Sandy Brook School. The teachers did not want the children to see their dead classmates. So they told the children to hold hands and close their eyes.
Profile Image for A Book Vacation.
1,392 reviews714 followers
August 13, 2014
To see my full review:


This is an amazing, poignant story that delves deep into the world of teen homelessness. Emily Shepherd promises to tell the whole truth; she doesn’t sugarcoat it for readers, and she sometimes strays from the topic of hand, but the novel flows beautifully and I was enamored from the very beginning.

Life hasn’t been easy for Emily, and as the final remnants of her world fall apart with the meltdown of the nuclear power plant her parents run, disappearing becomes her only option. Scared of those around her and their reception of her family name, Emily takes on a different persona and hits the streets. This gritty depiction of her life as she recalls it isn’t overly graphic, but gets the point across just the same as it comes to drugs, stealing, shelter survival, lies, and meaningless sex.

I love Emily’s voice, and I’m in awe of Bohjalian’s ability to capture the essence of a teenaged girl as she hits rock bottom, attempts to care for a young runaway she meets on the street, and ultimately giving up. Where do you go when you have absolutely no one? As Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands unfolds, readers become one with Emily as she spirals down, reminiscing about her parents and her experiences along the way.

The title has a rather profound meaning that is explained near the very end—to close your eyes to the bad all around you and walk away from the bad, holding hands with another who will help keep you grounded, but in Emily’s case, there is no one to hold hands with, and as she stumbles blindly through life, ready for death, she becomes a resilient, strong young woman who beats the odds.
Profile Image for Berna Estrada .
36 reviews2 followers
October 1, 2014
I hold this author in such high regard that it pains me to rate this book so low. However, I do believe this rating is accurate. This was a rambling, stream of consciousness book that never solidified into a story for me. There were plot lines that were unresolved threads that could have been lifted from the book and never affected the plot line (Emily's cutting). All in all, it was a disappointment that is not worth your time. Not giving up on this author - he has done some fantastic work. Moving on to The Light in the Ruins and expecting great things.
Profile Image for ☕️Kimberly  (Caffeinated Reviewer).
2,999 reviews638 followers
July 14, 2014
I first discovered Chris Bohjalian in 2011 when I read and loved his suspense thriller, The Night Strangers. Since then I have read two of his historical fictions The Sandcastle Girls and The Light in the Ruins. Each story is vastly different, beautiful, captivating and memorable. It seems no matter what story Bohjalian tells it is destined to entwine itself into my memory.

I am not going to lie; when I saw this title on NetGalley, I requested it without even reading the synopsis. It did not matter it was Chris Bohjalian!! When I began reading I was pleasantly surprised and a little shocked to hear the voice of sixteen-year-old Emily Shepard.

The tale begins in Burlington Vermont; Emily is homeless, living in a garbage bag igloo. It has been a year since the power plant her parents worked at had a nuclear meltdown and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont evacuated and quarantined. The press and the people blame the meltdown on her father.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is beautifully written and told entirely through the voice of our protagonist Emily Shepard. It is raw; at times, her voice bounces from thought to thought. She adores the poet Emily Dickinson and references her. Emily is wise beyond her years and at other times her age rings through. She takes us through the day of the meltdown, and offers flashbacks of life before the disaster. She does not hold back about her life after the accident. Life on the streets and the dark side to her suffering pour forth as she shares her story. It is genuine and at times hard to swallow. We learn about her fears, the friendships she makes and her journey back from this dark place.

Bohjalian is brilliant. Emily’s voice is authentic, and he impressed me with her voice. From her language to feelings, Bohjalian gave her life making her one of the most memorable and fleshed out characters I have ever encountered. Secondary characters were interesting, and influenced my emotions but it was Emily herself that held me captive. Her voice had me lost within the pages of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.

Readers will need to acclimate themselves as Emily speaks directly to the reader. Picture if you will sitting across from a young girl. She is fidgety, and from time to time, she stares off as if lost in her own thought. Then her gaze clears, and she refocuses on you. She begins telling you are story; she is animated, and often injects poems, thoughts and ideas. It is all fascinating and at times, it makes you squirm or want to hug her. Instinctively you know she will not like that. The hours tick away, and you become lost in her story. It sometimes seems surreal, but Emily has this raw honesty and somehow you know she has kept nothing back. Occasionally a memory manifests and she takes a break to share that tale with you.

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is adult literary fiction, but the protagonist will introduce Bohjalian to older young adults. He is brilliant, and I am on a personal mission to read all of his novels. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands was gripping, raw and authentic. Emily Shepard is a character who will mark herself in your memory and Bohjalian is an author whose books you will reach for repeatedly.

Copy received from publisher in exchange for unbiased review that originally published @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer
Profile Image for Casey.
599 reviews46 followers
June 23, 2014
TUF: Tedious. Uneventful. Frustrating.

I was interested to learn what was happening with the dog, but that's about it. This story is about a young girl trying to survive a nuclear meltdown, and I didn't give a damn, not one little damn. I wanted to care about the characters, what they were facing, how they were overcoming, but in the end... I just didn't. Sure, the situation is interesting enough, but it's the characters we either root for, or against. We need to see growth of some sort, for the better, or for the worse. But having characters that never change is about as entertaining as watching a plate of scrambled eggs sitting on a table. Or perhaps it's more like looking at a photo of a plate of scrambled eggs sitting on a table. That's probably more like it.

I don't enjoy bagging on books. And I certainly don't wish to sound like some loud-mouthed jerk hammering a meaty hand to emphasize my points. So, I won't. I will however make one observation.

This story is almost entirely told to the reader rather than being shown. Telling me that you feel sad doesn't do anything for me. Show me the wet grief rolling down your face, or show me you furtively turning away so I don't see your burning tears. But don't tell me you are sad, don't tell me it's cold outside, don't tell me about your messed up life. SHOW ME. Don't tell me about the money; show me the money.

Grace Blewer is the audiobook narrator. In the interview that follows the reading of the story, author Chris Bohjalian reveals that Grace Blewer is his daughter. Blewer's reading was unremarkable, but I think she captures the voice of the main character.

Profile Image for Tara.
114 reviews18 followers
July 19, 2016
I won a copy of this book in a First Reads giveaway. Here is Amazon's description of the book:

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.

This book has a unique story line and kept me engrossed throughout. The author does a great job of embracing the narrator's voice and taking us along on her heartbreaking journey of survival. Well written and fully engaging, I think this book should appeal to both adults and the YA crowd.
Profile Image for Sheri.
1,195 reviews
November 18, 2014
I almost put this on my young adult shelf. In fact, if the trucker sex was a bit less graphic, I probably would not only have put it on my YA shelf, but suggested it as suitable reading for my 12 year old (and I don't censor much). It reminded me a bit of Age of Miracles and was in general very YA in tone.

The concept of a nuclear meltdown in Vermont (on American soil!) is a great one and I felt could have been much better done. Emily is not a bad narrator and she has a few good insights (my favorite was: "We watch it, we read about it, and then we move on. As a species, we're either very resilient or super callous. I don't know which"), but the story was just a point A to point B to point C kind of story. There is no real character development (Emily is cynical and jaded from the get-go as she is writing in hindsight) and no real plot development. This is just kind of a nothing story.

I did like the anti-climax when drunk mom apologized and everyone became warm and fuzzy at Lisa's (nice when something unexpected but with less drama happens in a novel). On the flip side, I did not like the Camille both approached Emily in the mall (too convenient) and became nice and helpful when they needed someone the most.

As an aside, I did not think the title was topically relevant (yes, school shootings and nuclear blowouts are both disasters, but different sorts) and would have expected an editor to cut both the passage and the title.

Overall it wasn't a bad book, but there was nothing spectacular. It was mostly just a quick read.
Profile Image for Olga.
409 reviews12 followers
July 23, 2014
I love Bohjalian, have read all, follow him on FB, have great respect for his interest in really tough issues. My favorite is "Before You Know Kindness".
I was so excited to be the first one at my library to check out the CD book "Close your eyes, hold hands". Great narrator - both the character and the performer, Chris's daughter Grace Experience. Tough issues, as always. But...
This time I did not loose sleep over the book. Enjoyed it, was interested but did not loose sleep. Not having been (for many years) or even raised a teen-age girl (have sons), I was completely taken by the character of Emily. Believed her and in her. Totally believed her voice and her lingo.
I just wish there were more depth. I was looking forward to exploration of the issue of nuclear power, with the usual Bohjalian's even handedness and deep analysis of several view points. Unfortunately, this book spent more than half describing misadventures of a homeless teenager (kind of like a modern day "Oliver Twist"). And while my heart goes out to a kid who had been dealt a tough hand in life (well, alcoholic parents, loneliness, losing her dog... and oh, yes, surviving a nuclear disaster in her backyard). All that made for a good read, but more so for YA audiences. As an adult I had hoped for multiple voices pro and con nuclear power. The lone 16 y.o. Emily just was not enough, not Bohjalian's caliber IMHO.,
Profile Image for Barbara H.
684 reviews
June 8, 2015
There was an interesting article/ review in today's Boston Sunday Globe, (6/29/14) with Chris Bohjalian. It was revealing to discover how he attacks each writing project. I especially noted his statement, " I've written some really terrible books...The books that are tree-killing mediocrities are those that I begin without a clear vision."
I can think of one or two which I would agree are what he also calls "clunkers". I wonder if he would agree. I'll have to wait for this one to arrive from the publisher!

Oh, dear, Chris, you have disappointed me again. I do like most of your books. The last time I experienced this distaste involved another teen-age girl in, Secrets of Eden. I confess, I have not finished this novel yet, but I discovered what it is that I do not enjoy here. It is written in the voice of an adolescent young lady. It does not ring true!(It certainly is not your voice!) I definitely would categorize this novel in the Young Adult genre. I have enjoyed some of these books, but this litany of the misadventures of this teen, just does not light that fire.

So, Chris, I shall put this aside unfinished. Perhaps one of my respected GR Friends can convince me to continue with it.
Profile Image for Laurielib.
534 reviews7 followers
August 6, 2014
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands was hard to put down. Bohjalian's writing and characters are so impeccably crafted. Emily Shepard is a new teen heroine identified as the "Queen of Underachievers" and suffering from "impulse control". An the only child of two unhappy, yet loving, parents who work at a Vermont nuclear power plant, Emily struggles with growing up and fitting in. Bohaljian captures all the pain, angst and emotional immaturity associated with the teen years. When the plant suffers a meltdown and her father is blamed, Emily is on the run. I found her character very similar to Theo's in the Goldfinch. Both are caught up in tragedies, lack the maturity to understand their situations and make unfortunate choices. The book is divided into BC Before Cameron and AC After Cameron. In AC Emily's true character engages the reader. The emotional impact of the book is so powerful rising to a crescendo when the reader reaches the end and discovers the source of the title. This is a great book for teens moving into adult fiction.
Profile Image for Harry Brake.
503 reviews5 followers
October 3, 2014
I breezed through this in about 4 days and the 271 pages honestly, were not long enough. A gift from a an author, this was more than a gift. Heartbreaking, realistic, yet letting us in to the plight of many individuals, life situations, and the scary potential of technology and its aftermath, this novel on relationships bring you aboard this roller coaster of emotion from the very beginning. Raw in the absolute right places, the ongoing relationships of Emily, the fallout and shadow of how her parents are received a look at how most people in life criticize without thought, as well as the tumultuous struggle to simply survive, Chris Bohjalian is AMAZING at capturing lives affected by tragedy, offering those glimmers of hope that keep you and the characters moving forward, and simply, helping you get lost in this novel. This became more of a gift and mostly a privilege to be able to read! Kudos to Chris Bohjalian for putting words on a page that head right to your heart.
Profile Image for Tammy.
894 reviews162 followers
May 29, 2018
A somewhat dark, yet entertaining book that was unputdownable for me.
Emily Shepard loves Emily Dickinson poems + aspires to write great books, but something cataclysmic happens and her parents are now unaccounted for after a nuclear meltdown where they’re employed. During her school’s evacuation she makes the decision to run away but life on the streets isn’t pretty + she does whatever needs to be done to survive, that is until she meets a 9yr old fleeing his 5th foster home.
A heartbreaking story yet beautifully written. This is a book I enjoyed reading and would definitely recommend! 4.5 ☆
Profile Image for Evie.
706 reviews923 followers
September 5, 2014
There are two kinds of apocalyptic stories: those about entire states/countries/continents going to sh*t due to some unforeseen catastrophe, and then the other ones - the small, personal ones. This is a story of one teenage girl's personal apocalypse. A story about one person's universe imploding in on itself. One small family unit ceasing to exist. One nine year old dog being left behind to die. One lost little girl trying to survive. And it's louder, scarier, more devastating that any big-scale apocalypse you could imagine.

Close You Eyes, Hold Hands is, without a doubt, one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read. Its emotional impact is comparable to what John Green and his "The Fault in Our Stars" did to me a couple of years ago, and by that I mean: brutally gutted me and left me a sobbing mess. OK, this book didn't actually have me sobbing. Sobbing comes when you're ready to let go, when you've made some sort of peace with everything that happened. Sobbing is just one step away from the somewhat optimistic"hey-I-might-recover". And believe me, there is no recovering from Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. Not now, not tomorrow, not in a million years. So no, this book didn't leave me a sobbing mess, this book left me a hollowed-out, emotionally dissected, terrified to the core mess.

Aside from ripping my heart out, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands also made me stop and consider certain things. Things like the fact that we all live in (f*cking) glass houses, you know? We go about our lives either content with what we have or always complaining about the things we don't have. We surround ourselves with people and things, build our "nests", enjoy all the conveniences of modern society, tech gadgets, etc. And we forget -or choose to ignore - the fact that it all could be gone - destroyed, taken away - in a blink of an eye. Family members could die, your home could be burned down, your city could be wiped out by a tornado, an earthquake, a meteor strike - or a nuclear plant meltdown. Any moment, without a warning. One day you have everything - or at the very least something, the next you have nothing, you are nothing, you have no one. Can you even imagine?

The writing in this book is extraordinary. It's not embellished, far from being lyrical or poetic, and there aren't any brilliant and clever one-liners you'd like to print out and slap on the wall. It's not that kind of book and it's not that kind of style. And yet, it is, in so many ways, even better. It's raw, it's honest, it's so real and simple it consumes all of your attention, rendering you unable to think of anything else. Chris Bohjalian has become my new favorite author. He's way up there with my other go-to authors when I feel like maybe it's time to lose some sleep, get some handsome looking bags under my eyes from reading into the wee hours, or - better yet - skip sleep altogether, because what's better than just laying there in the darkness with tears silently flowing down your cheeks, right? And who needs sleep anyway? So yes, he joined the "cool kids" club and is now hanging out on the shelf with John Green, David Levithan, Elizabeth Scott, Andrew Smith and A.S.King and, trust me, there is no better shelf out there (or, at least there isn't in my house).

Emily's first person's narrative is a bit all over the place. OK, a lot. She recounts different experiences, talks about her past with her parents, the day of the meltdown, the days that followed, as well as what happens long after all that. And she jumps back and forth between different timelines. Oddly enough, all that chaos makes her story more believable and convincing. Her narration is a mess, because her life is a mess. She is a mess. It is only fitting that her POV is a mess, too. And it's really kind of madly brilliant, to be honest.

I can not - I will not - get over this book. I just know I won't. Ever. This is such a powerful, gut-wrenching, at times really sickening and disturbing story, I know I will always remember it. It will be haunting me. This isn't just a survival story, or some heartbreaking drama, and definitely not a lighthearted YA read (in fact, this isn't a YA book at all - it's adult through and though, don't even think of picking it up if you're only into YA) with a blissfully happy ending. This is a book about losing everything - including yourself - and scratching your way out of a bottomless pit. A story about a nuclear meltdown, dead family members, blame, shame, guilt and everything in between. There is no other book out there that would come close to CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS in any aspect, so just suck it up and buy a copy. You can thank me later.

And one more thing. The title and its meaning? A bullet straight through your heart.
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