Review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands
Updated: Jun 25, 2021
Let me start by saying that like all Bohjalian novels, this book is exceptionally well written. In reading other reviews of "Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands," you quickly see that point as a recurring observation, whether the review is two stars or five stars. The disparity in ratings is not due to the quality of the writing, rather it comes from how we project our own personal judgments vicariously on the protagonist. The reason, in large part, is that the entire novel is written in a stream-of-consciousness first-person journal style from the perspective of a seventeen-year-old girl who goes through a year-long ordeal of homelessness and loss as the result of a Chernobyl-style disaster in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (if you're not from Vermont, you'll have to look up "Northeast Kingdom").
Via Bohjalian's wonderfully descriptive prose we can't help but imagine ourselves viewing Emily Shepard's trials through our own eyes, and hence we can't help but impose our own perspective and judgments on Emily's reactions and choices. And that is where the disparity comes in. To some, Emily's experiences are not credible or her thoughts, choices, and reactions are not credible. And because of that and because of the depth to which we are immersed in Emily's character, some readers will be left by the wayside. However, that is the risk that an exceptional author has to take from time to time: the risk that the intensely challenging and personal nature of the first-person internal dialog of a character will not resonate with a broad audience.
That risk is also the brilliance of the book—when it connects, it really connects. As you may have concluded by now, it really connected with me. Why? Bohjalian's super-power is the first-person narrative and to me, he makes Emily totally authentic. Her loose journal-style writing with random interjections, observations, epiphanies, and time jumps is so alive with youthful angst, recklessness, and brilliance that I felt I was transported back to that age and reliving it through her. I totally relate to her seventeen-year-old logic for running away and to her perception of people hating her. I relate to her language and rationale and self-loathing. I relate to her youthful obsessions, both intellectual and self-destructive. I relate to how she glommed on to nine-year-old Cameron and his plight. I've met people who have lived that reality. Emily and Cameron are fictional but their situations are all too real.
In short, if you can tune in to the same wavelength as Emily Shepard, you will become thoroughly engrossed in her story and recognize "Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands" as, perhaps, one of Chris Bohjalian's most brilliant works.