REVIEW: CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN

 

Emily Shepard is on the run; the nuclear plant where her father worked has suffered a cataclysmic meltdown, and all fingers point to him. Now, orphaned, homeless, and certain that she’s a pariah, Emily’s taken to hiding out on the frigid streets of Burlington, Vermont, creating a new identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson.

Then she meets Cameron. Nine years old and with a string of foster families behind him, he sparks something in Emily, and she protects him with a fierceness she didn’t know she possessed. But when an emergency threatens the fledgling home she’s created, Emily realizes that she can’t hide forever.

My Thoughts: Emily’s first person narrative takes the reader back and forth in time, revealing bits of her life before the meltdown, and then shows us what life in shelters and on the street looked like.

At times she was part of a posse, while at other periods of her time on the streets, she struggled to stay out of sight. She learned right away not to use her real identity, as the news commentators had made the name “Shepard” something to vilify.

I liked how Emily shared her experiences and was open about her flaws and bad choices. She revealed a nurturing side when she took 9-year-old Cameron under her wing. But then, the habit of hiding, along with the fear of being caught, led to a disastrous error in judgment that put Cameron at risk.

Because of the non-linear storytelling, I was never quite sure where we were headed, but I was always interested and engaged.

By the end of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, I could look back on what had happened in the nine months after the meltdown, and then look ahead at what would eventually come to pass for Emily; by then, I was close to tears at times, and I was definitely invested in what would happen to her. 4.5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: LILA, BY MARILYNNE ROBINSON

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She was a neglected baby, then she was a rescued toddler. Clutched from the jaws of poverty and fear, she followed along with the woman who rescued her, accepting what was given and what she had to do to survive.

So how can she now be another kind of woman, the wife of the minister in a small town in Iowa called Gilead? How can she be pregnant with his child, fitting into his world, and somehow reconciling her new circumstances with what has gone before?

Lila is the kind of story that meanders from the past to the present, and even takes the reader into an imagined future, as we follow along with the character’s thoughts. What seems like a wonderful place of safety here in Gilead with the minister she has married, and who, through a good part of the book, she is still trying to adjust to, from his very presence to his philosophy on life and on existence, is also a place that arouses fears. Can she fit what she knows of her past into the present and future she is creating? What is the meaning of her existence, and what does her new situation mean about those she left behind?

This novel was challenging to read, since it moved all over the place, bringing some confusion as it did so, but throughout, this reader could sense that the philosophical meanderings of the young woman were bringing her to some kind of resolution. Finally. 4 stars.