Allison's Book Bag

Close Your Eyes Hold Eyes by Chris Bohjalian

Posted on: April 17, 2015

Somewhere inside the pages of Close Your Eyes Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian, there is a story. However, due to the introspection and rambling of the main character, I struggled to find one. There is a poignancy to the climax, but how many readers will get to that point? For these reasons and others, my reaction to Bohjalian’s newest novel is mixed.

Introspection is supposedly at the heart of young adult novels. However, the more young adult novels I read, the more I realize that writing emotions is kind of like telling jokes. It’s extremely difficult to pull off. And, even when done well, what resonates with one person might not with another. Bohjalian does have his fans for his portrayal of Emily. For me, however, I tired of Emily’s constant put downs of herself. She keeps writing about how much of a loser she is, but in reality she seems like the average teen who experiments with drugs, drinks, and cutting herself while trying to find her place in the world. Also, I never could figure out if Emily really believed herself at fault or if she felt as if life would have been better if not for her drunken parents, overbearing teachers, and the cataclysmic meltdown of the nuclear plant in her town. In one breath she’s excusing her actions and in the next she’s gushing out apologies, but mostly she seems to lay blame on her bad luck. I just never could develop any real sympathy for this girl who feels her only redeeming quality is that she cared for a lost boy.

Ironically, there should have been ample reasons for me to care about Emily. She’s gifted but school doesn’t challenge her. Her parents love her enough to dole out consequences for misbehavior, but apparently can’t stay sober long enough to bring her to or pick her up after socials. Finally, a cataclysmic meltdown of the nuclear plant in her town robs Emily of her parents, her beloved dog, and even her social status. The latter happens because her parents rightfully or wrongfully become the fall guys for the disaster.

With all this going wrong, how could I not feel anything but compassion for Emily? Unfortunately, Bohjalian jumps so frequently from one event to another in Emily’s life that mostly I just felt confused, overwhelmed, and lost. In just a few pages that I picked from the middle of the novel, Emily tells of stealing a bike, talks about why the bike shouldn’t be called a mountain bike, observes all the supplies that people bring with them as they flee town, jumps ahead to a robbery in which she participated, compares it to Bonnie and Clyde’s escapades, remembers how she used to watch the History Channel, and then flips to telling readers about how Emily Dickinson’s songs can be sung to the tune of the theme song from Gilligan’s Island.

Once I reached the climax of Close Your Eyes Hold Hands, I did finally begin to understand where Emily had ended up, who she was sharing her story with, and why she might tell her story in such a convoluted way. I even began to feel some compassion for Emily who, having already suffered so much, is forced to make additional tough choices. The poignancy of the climax is enough to soften my negative reaction, but unfortunately not enough to woo me.

With Close Your Eyes Hold Hands, Bohjalian could have focused on any number of themes. He could have explored how an underachieving teenager rises above her dysfunctional parents, how a homeless teen is changed when she met a foster kid on the run or, because dystopia is popular right now, how a nuclear meltdown turned one family’s life upside down. Indeed, for many readers, Close Your Eyes Hold Hands may even represent a successful mix of all these plots. As for me, it seems to waffle between being a problem novel for young people and a reflective novel for adults, and as such never really captivated me.

My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.

How would you rate this book?

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