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.
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. Five stars.
I received this novel from the publisher, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. This title releases today (and you really MUST read it!).