Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013, 8:37 am
Elliott Holt's debut novel is a Cold War mystery that addresses themes of friendship, loss and our capacity to forge our own identity.
Sarah Zuckerman is a young girl growing up in Cold War-era Washington D.C. Despite her age, she's been scarred by the loss of those closest to her ("defections," she calls them), having first lost her sister, then her father and finally (in a manner) her own mother. Sarah is fretful, fearful and awkward.
When a new family moves into the neighborhood, they bring with them a girl Sarah's age who is everything Sarah is not. Jenny Jones is pretty, fearless and popular. Sarah and Jenny form a fast friendship that is put to the test when Sarah decides to write a letter to the Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov asking for peace.
Jenny opts to write a similar letter, and it's hers that gets published by the Soviet newspaper Pravda. The resulting press transforms Jenny into an international celebrity and unofficial ambassador for peace. Jenny moves in new orbits now and Sarah finds herself abandoned once again. The plot thickens when a plane carrying Jenny and her family disappears off the New England coast.
Jenny's mysterious disappearance drives the second half of You Are One of Them, providing the vehicle through which readers can witness Sarah charting her own course and ultimately finding her own self.
Relationships, whether between individuals or nations, are untidy things. They aren't always black and white and they don't always wrap up in neat packages. Readers who appreciate personal journeys, though, will find much to like in Holt's thoughtful and nuanced debut.