You Are One of Them by Elliot Holt

A haunting debut novel that combines a young girl’s coming-of-age, a lost friendship and the chill of the Cold War.


Elliott Holt’s You Are One of Them opens in 1980s Washington, D.C. Sarah Zuckerman is a troubled child, haunted by those who have left her behind. Her mother, obsessed with the threat of nuclear war, never leaves the house; her father has moved back to England and remarried. When Jenny Jones moves in across the street, Sarah is enchanted: the Joneses are a perfect American family, loving and happy, and Jenny is the perfect best friend. It’s Sarah’s idea to write a letter to the Soviet premier, asking for peace, but it’s Jenny’s letter that gets published and answered with an invitation to visit the Soviet Union. After the Joneses return, world-famous Jenny doesn’t have time for Sarah any more. Then Jenny is killed in a plane crash, her body never recovered.

Ten years later, as Sarah graduates from college, she gets a letter from a Russian woman who suggests she may know something about Jenny’s eventual fate. Their correspondence prompts Sarah to move to Moscow, and as she makes new friends in this strange foreign city, it seems that everyone has possible ties to the KGB. Could Jenny really be among these mysterious Russian women? And how far is Sarah willing to go to reclaim her friendship?

You Are One of Them is part thriller, part elegy, part study of place, as Moscow comes alive and Holt explores themes of lost and missing loves, within its echoes of the real-life story of Samantha Smith and the broader mystique and paranoia of the nuclear era.

This review originally ran in the June 7, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 conspiracy theories.

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