Finished April 27
Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian, read by Grace Blewer
This novel is told by a young woman looking back at her recent past, Emily Shepard is a homeless teenager struggling to survive after her life has fallen apart. A nuclear powerplant in Vermont had a reactor go into meltdown and a large area of the state had to be evacuated, with many people losing their homes, their jobs, and many plant workers dying. Emily tells her story in fits and starts, jumping from the June that the meltdown occurred to the next spring when things completely fall apart for her. Part of Emily's situation is that her father was the chief engineer at the plant, and her mother was the communications representative. She feels that she must hide her identity as people are angry with her when they find out who her parents were.
Long before the meltdown, Emily was fascinated with her poet namesake Emily Dickinson, knowing many of her poems by heart, and writing her own poetry. Emily was a bit of a rebellious teenager, not doing as well in school as she could have, engaging in some risky behaviour and criticizing her parents for their own weaknesses. But she was still not fully an adult and her innocence shows even as she loses it. Among her many losses is that of her beloved dog Maggie, who was left in the house during the sudden evacuation, and whose unknown fate haunts Emily.
When she comes across Cameron, a young boy fleeing from a series of bad foster homes, she takes him under her wing, trying to convince him to get more help than she can offer, but also protecting him as much as she is able. In some ways, his presence also keeps her alive.
Emily struggles with many of the issues homeless teens struggling with self-hatred, depression, and general anxiety struggle with. She engages in far riskier behaviour than she would ever have thought herself capable of, but also finds herself reaching out to others as she tries to survive any way she can.
Emily is strong, but also overwhelmed by her circumstances. As she leads us through her story, referring back to events in her life before the meltdown, we see her loneliness, her dreams, and her regrets.
The interview with the author and narrator included here added another element to the story. Grace is Chris's daughter and the inspiration for some of the characteristics of Emily, as well as the source for some of the language particular to teens.