You Are One of Them

( 5 )


"A hugely absorbing first novel from a writer with a fluid, vivid style and a rare knack for balancing the pleasure of entertainment with the deeper gratification of insight. More, please.”
—Maggie Shipstead, The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
"A story about Russia, the United States, ...

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You Are One of Them: A Novel About Secrets, Betrayal, and the Friend Who Got Away

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"A hugely absorbing first novel from a writer with a fluid, vivid style and a rare knack for balancing the pleasure of entertainment with the deeper gratification of insight. More, please.”
—Maggie Shipstead, The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
"A story about Russia, the United States, friendship, identity, defection, and deception that is smart, startling, and worth reading regardless of when you were born.”
—Kathryn Schulz, New York Magazine
"Holt's beguiling debut… in which there is no difference between personal and political betrayal, vividly conjures the anxieties of the Cold War without ever lapsing into nostalgia."
The New Yorker

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.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Donna Rifkind
Holt evokes post-Cold War Moscow as capably as she renders Washington, summoning piquant details—the rusting infrastructure swathed in grime and cigarette smoke; the streets thronged with track-suited men, scolding old ladies, supermodels, prostitutes, expats—and the vigorous mood of a culture striving for reinvention…Holt has found inventive ways to use language that suggests the porousness of identity, the correspondence between self and other, neighbor and foreigner, you and them. Her ingenuity brings distinction to this confident, crafty first novel.
Publishers Weekly
Fresh from college, adrift Washington, D.C., native Sarah Zuckerman heads to post–Cold War Moscow in search of clues about what happened to Jenny Jones, her childhood best friend. After she wrote a letter to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov asking for peace in 1982, when the girls were 10, Jenny was invited to the U.S.S.R. as a “peace ambassador” and became an international sensation. But three years later, she and her parents were killed in a plane crash—or so it seemed. In 1995, Sarah receives a letter from a Russian woman named Svetlana, who hints that Jenny might be alive. But once in drab, polluted Moscow, a “place of new money and ancient grudges,” Sarah worries that she’s being lied to and manipulated. Holt creates strong roots, both in 1980s America—with references to friendship pins, Casey Kasem, and the ever-persistent threat of nuclear war—and 1990s Moscow, where tracksuits and cigarettes are never far away. Telling details of Soviet oppression and Russia’s budding advertising industry paint a vivid portrait of a country testing the waters of democracy. Holt, who won a Pushcart Prize for her short fiction, writes with a pleasing, wry intelligence in this promising debut. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (June)
The New York Times Book Review - Maggie Shipstead
You Are One of Them is a hugely absorbing first novel from a writer with a fluid, vivid style and a rare knack for balancing the pleasure of entertainment with the deeper gratification of insight. More, please.
Library Journal
When Sarah and golden-girl friend Jenny write Soviet premier Yuri Andropov pleading for world peace, only Jenny gets a response—and dies in a plane crash shortly thereafter. But was it an accident? Coming of age becomes end-of-Cold War intrigue.
Kirkus Reviews
A novel that tells the story of best friends who grow up in D.C. during the Cold War, told from the perspective of the one who is less talented, less desirable and more real. Holt's short fiction has received a Pushcart Prize, and she was runner-up for the 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award. Our narrator and protagonist is Sarah Zuckerman. After Sarah's older sister's death from meningitis, her parents' marriage never recovers. Sarah needs a friend, and when the Joneses move in next door, she gets her wish. Jenny Jones' family is an advertisement for a particular form of American domestic happiness, and the outgoing Jenny is an advertisement for herself. It is the early '80s, the deepest chill of the Cold War, when Sarah begins a letter to Yuri Andropov, then leader of the Evil Empire. Jenny writes too, and Andropov replies to her. Jenny becomes a media darling, joins the popular clique at school, and leaves Sarah and her morose mother alone with their sorrows. A few years later, Jenny and her parents die in a plane crash. This fact of Jenny's disappearance, and the conspiracies surrounding it, define Sarah's life (Sarah's mother establishes a Jenny Jones foundation). After college, Sarah travels to Russia in response to a note from Svetlana. Svetlana, apparently, is the girl standing next to Jenny in all the photos from Jenny's visit as a child ambassador to the USSR. We never stray far from Sarah's cramped perspective, and this tries the reader's patience, as Sarah offers platitudes in place of insight. This debut novel only looks deeply at one character, Sarah, and she is not enough to sustain interest.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594205286
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/30/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 608,391
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.42 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Elliott Holt's short fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Guernica, and Bellevue Literary Review. She won a 2011 Pushcart Prize and is the runner-up of the 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award. A graduate of the MFA program at Brooklyn College, where she won the Himan Brown Award, she has received fellowships from the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop and Yaddo. She is a former contributing editor at One Story magazine and a former copywriter, who has worked at advertising agencies in Moscow, London, and New York. She currently resides in her hometown of Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt

We went swimming that afternoon, and I can still remember my first glimpse of Jenny underwater. We sank beneath the surface in unison and sat cross-legged in a breath-holding contest on the bottom of the pool. She wore a canary yellow bathing suit and green goggles and I could see her eyes open wide and staring at me, her rival. I forced my eyes open despite the sting of chlorine. From above, the pool looked glassy and hard, a surface that must be broken with force, but below, it was soft and beckoning, a membrane through which light sieved like sugar. The sunlight webbed across Jenny’s skin and through her hair, giving it a reddish tint. Suddenly, she stuck out her tongue. My laughter forced me up for air. “I win!” Jenny announced as she triumphed from below.

Mrs. Jones asked about my family. What did my dad do, she wanted to know.

“He lives in London,” I said.

“London, England? Gosh, that’s far away,” she said.

“They’re divorced,” I said. And though divorce was not uncommon in our Washington circles, Mrs. Jones looked shocked. I liked her innocence: troubled thoughts rushed across her face like clouds and were gone just as quickly. She was a clear sky.

“What about your mom? What does she do?”

“She works for nuclear disarmament,” I said.

It was only after my father left that my mother had begun to worry about nuclear war. The good thing was that she started leaving the house to attend disarmament meetings. She got over her fear of the dark so that she could turn our basement into a fallout shelter. She mapped out scenarios, calculating the reach of the radioactive fallout if the blast hit Kansas City, say, or Washington. She drew ominous red circles in our Rand-McNally to mark the circumference of destruction. At the kitchen table, the hanging lamp created a tunnel of light under which she envisioned doom. She’d press her slide rule across swaths of U.S. territory.

I liked to flip the atlas to the Soviet Union, its borders drawn in a muted red. I couldn’t even fit the top of my pinkie inside Luxembourg, but could press both of my palms onto the Soviet sprawl. The Russians fascinated me. My mother and I watched clips of Brezhnev on the evening news—his chest clotted with medals, his eyebrows bristling under his fur hat—but it was ordinary Russians I was curious about. Moscow, as the capital of the other Superpower, struck me as Washington’s twin. Was there an eight-year-old girl somewhere in Moscow whose sister had also died, whose father had also left?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 11, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting During the Andropov Era in the Soviet Union, two Am


    During the Andropov Era in the Soviet Union, two American girls, Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones, write letters to the Premier about the arms race. Sarah came up with the idea, but Jenny's letter seemingly impressed Andropov more, so much so that the Jones family is invited to visit the country. The ensuing publicity drives a wedge between the girls, a wedge that freezes Sarah in time when Jenny and her parents get killed in a plane crash in the Soviet Union. Sarah's mother, abandoned by her British ex-pat husband and obsessed to the breaking point with nuclear war, gets a nonprofit fund started in Jenny's name. And life goes on -- or so it seems.

    Flash forward to 1995 and the end of the Soviet Union. Sarah, now out of college, is still haunted by Jenny -- she seemed to have everything Sarah needed: the perfect family, the perfect life, the perfect future. But nothing seems to have changed in Sarah's life. Until one day, she receives a mysterious letter suggesting Jenny may still be alive and living in what is now Russia. Sarah gets on a plane and heads over, bombarded both by her own unresolved feelings about Jenny and by the new Russia. She meets Svetlana, the writer of the note, who eventually introduces her to Zoya, who might or might not be Jenny. Zoya knows some things, but not others. (Like the discovery that Andropov never got Sarah's letter because Jenny's dad intercepted it and hid it behind a bedroom mirror.) But there's a very good reason to not believe Zoya: she needs money. The nonprofit fund has now grown to a sizable amount of cash, and a very bad investment has wiped Zoya out; if Sarah gives her the money, she'll be solvent. But Sarah has been rethinking her relationship with Jenny, and isn't so sure if Jenny was ever Jenny, or only the Jenny the young Sarah needed in her life at the time. Does she even need her now, alive or dead?

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2013

    quick read

    A great book for a plane ride, very simple but enjoyable

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted July 12, 2013

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    Posted October 14, 2013

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    Posted June 25, 2014

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