Genre: Adult, Contemporary Fiction, Publication.Date July 8th 2014 Pages: 288 Published By: Doubleday Author Chris Bohjalian Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands on Goodreads My review copy: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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A heartbreaking, wildly inventive, and moving novel narrated by a teenage runaway, from the bestselling author of Midwivesand The Sandcastle Girls.
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.
I sometimes hear people talking about how normal things are now, compared to those first weeks after Reactor One exploded. It’s true. There is the Exclusion Zone, and it must suck to be a Vermont dairy farmer because no one wants Vermont milk or cheese anymore. But for most of the world—for most of Vermont—the Cape Abenaki meltdown is just another bit of old news. Tsunamis. School shootings. Syria. 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.
None of us knew what this was going to mean for our food or our water or our air. None of us knew if the electricity would suddenly go out and ATMs would stop working. None of us knew anything.
That night all I understood was what I felt. And what I felt was dread.
I love it when therapists talk about boundaries. I really could have used some, right? But how can you fence in a brain? How can you ask a person to rein in something that really is wider than the sky?
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.
A nuclear meltdown changes people—and I don’t mean radiation sickness or Twilight Zone kinds of mutations in babies—but it sure as hell doesn’t make a cutter stop cutting.
Sometimes when I reread what I’ve written, I find myself creeped out by what’s between the lines. What I haven’t written.
I felt like the lowest, most vile, most pathetic thing on the planet. And, trust me, it’s no small trick to feel both vile and pathetic.But, looking back, you know what’s the saddest thing? How easy it is to get used to that feeling when you’re hungry and scared and alone.
The problem with always having to be right is that sometimes you’re not. And so, if you’re like me, those times when you’re not, you try and save face—especially after you’ve seriously fucked up. You make one bad decision and then another, trying to fix that very first fuck-up.
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.
F*ck my wallet, I am giving away a copy INTERNATIONALLY.
I just have to share this with someone.