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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.
“[An] accomplished debut…You Are One of Them beautifully compresses and expands time, place and the boundaries of the self…Transfixing.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A novel of grand and intimate scope, artfully balanced between the political and personal. The book’s narrative satisfies on multiple levels, as both a compelling character study and a psychological thriller with a ferociously intelligent ending.”
“Like a matryoshka doll, Elliott Holt’s bold, electric debut novel artfully unpacks its secrets…This is an unflinching tale of self-deception and the struggle to lead an authentic life.”
“It’s that ambiguity that lends the conclusion of You Are One of Them its power. The resolution to Holt’s novel brings together all of the elements raised in the preceding pages, from saber-rattling to childhood betrayals. It’s a dramatically satisfying ending that invokes those things that we can never know — and as such, it’s a reflection of a haunted period of history, of lessons learned in doublespeak that may well have rooted themselves too deeply in our collective minds for us to fully recover.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Atmospheric… Smoke and mirrors keep a reader guessing till the last pages, when Sarah at last frees herself from a lifetime of feeling left behind.”
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A complex and beautifully written book about secrets and relationships, as well as the things we do for closure.”
—Vol. 1 Brooklyn
“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] writes with a pleasing, wry intelligence in this promising debut.”
“[YOU ARE ONE OF THEM] perfectly melds the personal and the political in this spot-on portrait of a girlhood friendship set against a Cold War backdrop…Holt ably captures both the paranoia of the Cold War and the shabby yet genteel aura of an exhausted Moscow just after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. But it is her razor-sharp insights into the turbulent dynamics of female friendship that give this novel its heft.”
"Intimate and intelligent, You Are One of Them is a surprising story of friendship and loss, but also a meditation on history and a reminder of how global events can reverberate through the smallest moments of ordinary lives."
—Karen Thompson Walker, New York Times bestselling author of The Age of Miracles
“Elliott Holt is not just a promising writer, but a great writer. She’s young, and she’s a master. I was going to write that You Are One of Them could’ve been written by an Alice Munro or a Susan Minot, but that would be wrong. Because this book could only have been written by Elliott Holt, whose powerful new voice is her own.”
—Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life and Chang and Eng
“Elliott Holt’s debut novel You Are One Of Them reads with the heartbreaking ring of truth to it as she deftly taps a well of feeling that is at once primal, archetypical and deeply personal. Through the character of Sarah, Holt explores the indelible stain of grief, a child’s desire for détente, and the inescapable awareness of the life that could have been but wasn’t. Holt’s ability to unwind the dangerous power of secrets and to blend fact and fiction, past and present, make for an evocative journey that circles around to illustrate how far we sometimes have to travel in order to find the self that was there all along.”
—A.M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven
“Elliott Holt has done something utterly amazing. Through the experiences of Sarah Zuckerman, the fantastic and complicated narrator of You Are One of Them, Holt shows us a genuine and heartfelt coming of age story that so convincingly reveals the deceptions and half truths of growing up. I have rarely seen such a thought-provoking and engrossing portrayal of how our experiences shape us and, consequently, those we most love. This is an eloquent, startling novel and Elliott Holt is a fearless writer.”
—Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang and Tunneling to the Center of the Earth
“You Are One of Them journeys through the U.S. and Russia, perfectly capturing that frightening time in the 1980s when every child went to bed dreaming of mushroom clouds. Like the cold war, this remarkable novel revolves around hidden truths and unreliable friendships. Elliott Holt skillfully draws out her characters’ secrets, exploring the different ways we open and close our hearts, and delivering a well-wrought tale of international and emotional intrigue.”
—Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief
“The great accomplishment in You Are One of Them is how effortlessly the vast and global mixes with—and informs—the deeply felt story of a lost friendship. Elliott Holt is graceful, sharp and super-smart, and her novel is a bildungsroman for the atomic age.”
—Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia and The Monsters of Templeton
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?
Posted June 11, 2013
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?
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Posted October 14, 2013
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