You Are One of Them
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.
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?
"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
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