Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Readers expect three things from Chris Bohjalian (The Light in the Ruins, Midwives): a gripping story, memorable characters and a social issue. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands delivers all three in a fast-paced tale narrated by Emily, who lived the life of a typical 16-year-old until her town's nuclear power plant exploded.

Emily begins by describing her current home--an igloo of trash bags stuffed with frozen leaves, built after she fled the site of the disaster, Vermont's Cape Abenaki nuclear plant. While the blast forced thousands to relocate, Emily's loss was even more extensive. Her father, the plant's chief engineer, was blamed for the meltdown, and her mother was the PR officer; both were killed in the explosion.

In alternating before-and-after passages that juxtapose Emily's childhood with her life on Burlington's streets, Bohjalian depicts his protagonist as a heartbreakingly good kid whose idol is Emily Dickinson and who looks after those even more endangered than she. When she encounters nine-year-old Cameron, escaping an abusive foster home, they form a team. She cares for him; he keeps her sights on survival.

Bohjalian has a keen ear for realistic dialogue. Emily is a credible teenage girl in a frighteningly plausible setting. Speaking directly to the reader ("You'll see" and "Been there. Done that."), Emily is a character we want to protect from the horrors that befall her. We hope her dreams of being a poet will come true, and that she'll discover her beloved dog has survived the radioactive wasteland. Bohjalian keeps us in page-flipping suspense until Emily reveals her fate. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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