Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel

Title:  Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2014. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0385534833 / 978-0385534833

Book Source:  I read this book because I enjoy the author's work (The Light in the RuinsThe Night StrangersThe Sandcastle Girls). I haven't liked all the books, but I always seek out the new ones.

Favorite Quote:  "I was homesick and sad - and you don't know homesick until you think you will never, ever see your home again. But sometimes I think I was at my best when the world seemed to be at its worst."

The books explains its title, "Close you eyes, hold hands." The reference is to the school shooting in Newtown Connecticut in 2012. The adults in the school had to walk the surviving students out of the school. Yet, in their path lay the bodies of their fellow students who were killed in the shooting. To prevent the children from witnessing that, the students were instructed, "Close your eyes, hold hands."

A powerful reference and image for a powerful book.

Vermont is nicknamed the "Green Mountain State" and is known for its rustic and natural beauty and its spectacular fall colors. In this beautiful setting, Chris Bohjalian places the Cape Abenaki nuclear power plant. The term "abenaki" comes from the tribe name of one of the Algonquin Native American tribes of the Northeast. Disaster in the middle of nature's paradise. "The foliage the autumn after Reactor One exploded was phantasmagorically beautiful ... What every understands but no one this about is that the leaves are spectacular because they're dying ... That beautiful red leaf, in other words, is slowly starving to death."

This book is Emily Shepard's journal. It is sometimes lost and scattered like her. It is sometimes confused and sad like her. The book acknowledges that as well. "Someday I should rewrite this whole mess. Try to put it in some kind of order. Someday I should probably do lots of things."

Emily is a teenager and the daughter of two people who work in the power plant. An accident occurs. One reactor explodes, creating a huge disaster for the plant and a huge surrounding area. Emily's parents die in the explosion, and her father is held responsible for the accident. Emily survives, and she runs. She runs from the disaster. She runs from the notoriety. She runs from the grief. She runs from the shock.

That is where the book begins. Shock, grief, and mental illness all play a role in this book. Emily ends up homeless, living on the streets of Burlington, Vermont. "Life on the streets is f***ing exhausting. It really is. There's nothing harder."

She ends up alone, until she finds Cameron, a little boy running from abuse at a foster home. That humans connection and feeling of responsibility keeps Emily herself safer and away from destruction. "There were times when I was a totally unfit guardian (I almost wrote "big sister"), but not those nights."

Another loss occurs, and Emily runs again. She runs from who she cares about and from people who care about her. "I couldn't do anything right. I didn't belong ... I had betrayed him, and now I was deserting him."

The emotion of this book is vivid and evident on every page. As with other recent books with young protagonists and narrators (Land of Love and Drowning and The Goldfinch), I want to reach out and protect Emily. Emily uses bad language. She is self-destructive. She chooses a path of drugs and prostitution at times to survive. Yet, on the flip side, she is intelligent. She spends hours at the library reading. She is passionate about the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She is all of these things together, and she is still a child who has lost all she holds dear in the world. Through all her bad choices and means of survival, I care and wonder who can help her and how. I wish that I could.

The book is dark and sad. Emily's has her flaws, and her decisions not always likable. Yet, Emily's character becomes so real through the book that I care deeply about her fate. The best recommendation for the book is that as it ends, my reaction is, "But no. I want to make sure she is going to be okay. What happens to her? What happens next?"

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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