Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chris Bohjalian's New Novel

Bohjalian's Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, released this summer, was a novel that might have been classified YA, though I can see why it was marketed to adult audiences. When I picked it up and dove into the first chapters, I realized that it's possible that Bohjalian might have been aiming for the YA market. Emily is 16, the only child of two alcoholic parents, living in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, very close to Lake Memphremagog, which is also the site of a nuclear power plant. The power plant, which dominates the region, is the reason Emily's family is in northern Vermont. Her father is a nuclear engineer and her mother the communications director of the plant.

After weeks of rain, and subsequent flooding, the plant morphs into meltdown mode quickly, in a matter of hours. Emily is evacuated with her fellow high school students to the south. When she can't contact her parents by cell, she panics and runs away to the northwest of Vermont, to its largest city, Burlington. Emily's life is soon fraught with her decision to survive on the street, back alleys, and hidden alcoves of the city. She takes on a new name, to hide the fact that she is the daughter of the man who is the main character blamed for the meltdown.

Despite Emily's life with people who are usually called "the dregs of society," she remains hopeful, helpful to friends when she can, and rescues and becomes the protector of a nine-year-old runaway.

Perhaps this novel is not among the best of Bohjalian's ouevre (partly due to his lack of certainty with Emily's voice), but I liked and became instantly attached to Emily in spite of this, particularly her refusal to let life kick her down and her eternal optimism and poetic vision, based on her deep connection to Emily Dickinson.

I heartily recommend Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands. I happen to be a fan of American novels that focus on life after nuclear meltdowns, and this is one is very worthwhile. 

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