June 2013

Separating truth from propaganda in a Cold War mystery

By Elliott Holt
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In 2007, New York magazine lauded Elliott Holt as one of six “literary stars of tomorrow.” Well, tomorrow is finally here, and Holt’s debut novel, You Are One of Them, does not disappoint.

Readers are introduced to Sarah Zuckerman and her new neighbor/soon-to-be-best friend, Jennifer Jones, in late 1980s Washington, D.C. Sarah’s family is cloaked in tragedy (a dead sister, an absentee father, an agoraphobic mother), so it is no wonder that she gravitates to Jennifer, an all-American girl whose family seems to have stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. As Cold War fever rises, both girls decide to write letters to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, requesting peace. Mysteriously, only Jennifer’s letter is received by Andropov—and published in the Russian newspaper Pravda. Jennifer and her family accept the Kremlin’s invitation of a tour of the U.S.S.R., which results in Jennifer’s becoming the Goodwill Ambassador between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. (and a media darling as well).

Flash forward about 10 years, and Jennifer is dead after a tragic plane crash. Over the years, the girls’ relationship had deteriorated, yet Sarah struggles with letting go of the memory of her childhood best friend. When a vague email from a woman named Svetlana arrives in Sarah’s inbox, Sarah goes on a mission to Russia, searching for answers about Jennifer’s disappearance. Did her family’s plane really go down due to operational malfunctions, or was there an international conspiracy at work? 

Loosely based on the true story of Samantha Smith (whose own death was rumored to be set in motion by the U.S.S.R.), Jennifer’s tale will leave readers clamoring for the truth. Could her family possibly have defected? Or is Sarah merely obsessed with the loss of a friend that she never fully understood to begin with?

Fans of espionage mysteries, the Cold War era and the chilling landscape of Russia will gravitate toward You Are One of Them.

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You Are One of Them

You Are One of Them

By Elliott Holt
Penguin Press
ISBN 9781594205286

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