Emily Shepard is a homeless teen living on the streets of Vermont after the nuclear meltdown of the plant her parents worked at. Her father was in charge of the plant and is posthumously taking the blame for the meltdown, and Emily fears for her life as the daughter of the most hated man in America. So she takes to the streets, doing what she needs to do to stay alive. There, she meets 9-year-old Cameron, a foster care runaway, and the two form a bond. But she can’t outrun her past forever, and the streets are no place for a child.
There are a lot of things that the prolific Bohjalian does well in Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. Most notable is the narrative voice of Emily, a 16-year-old beyond her years in many ways who still manages to sound like the teenager she is. A compelling story, palpable tension, and the fear of the unknown–both for Emily and the reader–makes this a riveting read.
The bond between Cameron and Emily is both heart-wrenching and very sweet. Her fierce protectiveness of him feels real, and her struggles to keep him safe and also provide at least a semblance of normalcy for him make for an interesting read. The attention to detail–to the daily grind of living and surviving on the street–is eye-opening and incredibly well crafted.
Perhaps Bohjalian’s only weak point in the novel is his failure to fully examine the aftermath of a disaster such as a nuclear meltdown. Instead, he chooses to focus on the micro-version of this, sticking close to Emily’s experiences and her own perspective. Readers looking for a futuristic view of post-nuclear disaster are likely to be disappointed, but everyone else should enjoy this sad, moving novel with a memorable protagonist.
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian. Random House: 2014. Library copy (audiobook).