Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones are two best friends growing up in Washington, DC, during the Cold War. On an impulse, Sarah and Jennifer both write letters to Yuri Andropov, the Soviet premier, asking for peace. Never expecting anything from them, the ten-year-old girls forget about their letters; that is, until Jenny receives a response. All of a sudden, Jenny is skyrocketed to fame while Sarah is left behind in the cold. When Jenny and her family tragically die in a plane crash, though, Sarah knows that Jenny’s legacy will always haunt her. Years later, Sarah receives a letter from Moscow that causes her to question everything she knew about Jenny and their childhood innocence.
A thought-provoking novel about the secrets inherent in a friendship and posing questions about identity, You Are One of Them is a well-written and engaging novel with an excellent sense of time and place.
What happens when everything you thought you knew about your childhood best friend is called into question? Most of us would never be in that position, or if we were, wouldn’t be so affected by it as Sarah Zuckerman is in You Are One of Them. But, in many ways, Sarah’s adult life has been defined by what happened to Jenny. By the letters the two girls sent, even if Sarah never received a response, and by extension, by the plane crash that killed Jenny and her family. Sarah’s life was changed irrevocably on that day when she sat down to write her letter; her identity is now mixed up with that girl she used to be, and perhaps even more, the girl she used to be friends with. How does Sarah’s perception of her own identity change now that she isn’t sure about Jenny? Holt examines the issue of identity again and again in this book, as Sarah must reevaluate everything she knows about herself.
You Are One of Them has a vague quality from the very first page. There’s a story there, in front of you, but it seems as though there is so much more just out of reach, underneath the surface. Holt’s writing accentuates the fact that there may have been much going on of which Sarah was unaware. It highlights the secrets and lies, and though it threatens to bring them to the surface, it doesn’t quite. Readers plunge through the book, subconsciously aware of the fact that, even if they receive answers to their questions, there will be much more bubbling underneath the surface. It’s the knowledge that no answer can be satisfactory—so, then, does the answer even matter?
Holt’s writing has a beautiful literary quality, and the story is surprisingly fast paced. This book is certainly a short, quick read, but it’s one that will make you think. You Are One of Them has excellent settings, in terms of both time and place, and it’s fascinating to watch Holt fill out her surroundings. The book is a gorgeous coming of age story, full of childhood innocence, while simultaneously being a gritty novel about the hard and fast realities of life. It’s incredibly difficult for a book to convincingly do both of these things at once, yet Holt excels at it. It will be very interesting to see what this talented new author chooses to do next.