Wednesday, January 21, 2015


A nuclear plant meltdown in northern Vermont should not have left teenager Emily Shepard homeless.  However, since her parents were both alcoholics and worked at the plant (scary!), Emily is guilty by association and assumes the name Abby Bliss in order to fly under the radar for a while.  She builds an igloo out of frozen trash bags in order to survive the winter, all the while turning tricks at truck stops and indulging in a little self-mutilation.  All she really wants to do is go home, despite the fact that it’s in the fallout zone, and her parents certainly died in the explosion.  She keeps it together by assuming responsibility for a nine-year-old foster-care runaway, but her quest to keep them both as incognito as possible eventually implodes.  I never cease to marvel at how well some authors imagine the aftermath of a disaster, and Bohjalian paints a vivid picture here of a girl on her own, trying to survive, after her world has been literally blown apart.  She makes some critical errors in judgment, but she manages pretty well, given her chaotic circumstances.  I was also concerned that a teenage girl’s voice would sound too much like a valley girl and that I would find it annoying, but for the most part that was not the case.  Emily has a passion for Emily Dickinson’s poetry and immerses herself in the life of the reclusive poet whose first name she shares.  The narration jumps around a bit in time, but I didn’t find it difficult to follow, and the jagged timeline seems appropriate for a teenaged perspective on the cataclysmic events that leave her young life in disarray.  We also learn that all of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme song.  Who knew?

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