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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Bohjalian's Newest Engages, But Doesn't Satisfy

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When a nuclear reactor blows up in Vermont's Northeastern Kingdom (NEK), killing wildlife, destroying forests, poisoning rivers, and polluting the air, 16-year-old Emily Shepard is just as horrified as everyone else.  Maybe more so, since both her parents are presumed to be among the human casualties of the tragic explosion.  With the entire area under emergency evacuation, the shell-shocked teenager should be fleeing, following orders from the social workers whose job it is to figure out what happens to her now.  Emily's as confused about the future as the other NEK-ers, but she knows one thing: she's not going into foster care.

Alone, Emily heads toward Burlington, where she hopes to blend in with other "Walkers" who have been displaced by the catastrophic event.  No one can know the truth—she's the daughter of the reactor's chief engineer, the man responsible for the devastation of the NEK.  As Emily does whatever it takes to survive on the mean city streets, keeping her secret identity intact, she becomes more and more despondent.  What really happened at the nuclear reactor?  Was her father drinking on the job or did he just make an honest—albeit fatal—mistake?  And, the most important question of all:  Could her parents possibly be alive?   

Torn between protecting a young homeless boy in Burlington and sneaking back into the toxic NEK to search for her parents, Emily must decide what really matters in a world forever changed by the actions of the people she loves most.  

Chris Bohjalian writes about a variety of intriguing issues, which leads to novels that are both absorbing and affecting.  I've enjoyed the few that I've read.  The former holds true with his newest, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands (available July 8, 2014), the title of which is taken from the advice Connecticut police gave to the terrified children after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary.  It's a gritty, depressing survival story, but one that pulls the reader in and doesn't let go.  Emily's tough, haunted voice is spot-on, making her tale compelling, if not uplifting.  Did I enjoy it?  That's the real question.  And the answer is no, not really.  The book held my interest, for sure, but I kept asking myself, "Why am I still reading this?  It's so bleak."  Overall, then, the read engaged me—it just didn't satisfy.

(Readalikes:  Even though this isn't technically a post-apocalyptic novel [the NEK is uninhabitable, but the rest of the world hums along as usual], it still reads like one.  It reminded me a little of Safekeeping by Karen Hesse)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for strong language, violence, sexual content and depictions of harmful behavior (drug use, prostitution, cutting, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands from the generous folks at Doubleday via those at NetGalley.  Thank you!


  1. I've only read The Night Strangers (actually, I listened to the audio, which was very good.) It's a REALLY creepy book. Sounds much different that this one. It's detailed, but I enjoyed it. Thanks for the great review.


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