I fell in love with Chris Bohjalian’s writings about a year after Oprah picked his novel Midwives as her Book Club Pick. I’ve read almost everything he’s written since then. Some I’ve loved; other not as much. But let me tell you, Bohjalian’s seventeenth novel Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands is probably his best yet.
His last three novels have been historical novels, but here he returns to contemporary times. Sixteen-year-old Emily Shepard has a rather normal life. She fights with her parents, hates her life, and could do better in school if she applied herself.
Emily’s dad is the chief engineer at a nuclear power plant in what is called the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont; her mother is the plant’s communications director. After the Prologue, Emily begins to tell what happened on the day there was a meltdown at the plant. It’s painfully obvious to Emily that her parents, who were both working that day, are dead. Her school has been evacuated to another town. Sure she will be held the scapegoat for what happened, Emily runs away. Unable to cope with the loss of her parents, she refuses to search the Internet as to avoid a possible truth: that her parents are really dead and that her father was drunk.
Determined to get home, she sets off to find her beloved dog, Maggie, or at least bury what may be left of her. Along the way, she prostitutes herself, does drugs, and becomes the adult in nine-year-old Cameron’s life. She even divides her life into two sections: B. C. (before Cameron) and A.C. (after Cameron)
Emily is fascinated with poet Emily Dickinson, who plays a key part of the story. She even makes some interesting connections between Dickinson’s poetry and a classic 1960s sit-com.
Bohjalian does a perfect job of finding the voice of a sixteen year old; it’s amazing really.