Author Elliott Holt
Publication Date May 30, 2013
Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones are best friends in an upscale part of Washington, D.C., in the politically charged 1980s. Sarah is the shy, wary product of an unhappy home: her father abandoned the family to return to his native England; her agoraphobic mother is obsessed with fears of nuclear war. Jenny is an all-American girl who has seemingly perfect parents. With Cold War rhetoric reaching a fever pitch in 1982, the ten-year-old girls write letters to Soviet premier Yuri Andropov asking for peace. But only Jenny's letter receives a response, and Sarah is left behind when her friend accepts the Kremlin's invitation to visit the USSR and becomes an international media sensation. The girls' icy relationship still hasn't thawed when Jenny and her parents die tragically in a plane crash in 1985.
Ten years later, Sarah is about to graduate from college when she receives a mysterious letter from Moscow suggesting that Jenny's death might have been a hoax. She sets off to the former Soviet Union in search of the truth, but the more she delves into her personal Cold War history, the harder it is to separate facts from propaganda.
You Are One of Them is a taut, moving debut about the ways in which we define ourselves against others and the secrets we keep from those who are closest to us. In her insightful forensic of a mourned friendship, Holt illuminates the long lasting sting of abandonment and the measures we take to bring back those we have lost.
You Are One of Them is steady, keeping an even pace, but it wasn’t necessarily the thriller I thought it was going to be — for some reason I was picturing espionage. This is not to say that I was disappointed, not by a long shot.
You Are One of Them was suspenseful, I assumed that Jenny was not all she was perceived to be and Elliot Holt put the puzzle pieces together perfectly. I always smash mine in forcing them into unwanted spaces due to frustration (This doesn’t have a smooth edge but I know it’s part of the border) Sarah’s story was similar to that. After Jenny’s death, Sarah is lost but upon learning her friend may still be alive she recreates my idea of a puzzle. I felt she knew it could be impossible but was going to try anyway, because there’s a chance that the corner of blue sky connects to an unknown piece.
The descriptions of Moscow, were vivid and felt like I was in the dachas with Sarah. I could taste the vodka and smell the perfume of cigarettes. Elliot Holt depicts a fascinating look at Russia.
There was one thing I was confused about and that was the timetable. Yes, I knew the Jones’ died in 1985 and the search for the illusive Jenny is ten years later making it 1995 but I became lost on that journey. Sarah tells the story as a reminiscences (although I don’t recall her saying what year) and thus had a tendency to forget what decade we were in until she makes a comment about email being new and the non-existence of cell phones.
Otherwise, I was entranced by You Are One of Them. It is a story of discovery, of growing up and trying to pull yourself out of living the past. Elliot Holt reminds us of Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. Outstanding.