Let me not waste time or mince words. Eilliott Holt is a fabulous writer and her first novel, You Are One of Them, has me hungry for more. Her ending faltered, at least for me, and it may account for one less star, if I awarded stars for my reviews. But I don’t, so let’s move on.
Here’s what Holt did–she took a little piece of history and used it to create a story about friendship, family matters, Cold War maneuvering and deception among the 80s superpowers.
Let’s go back in time. Remember Samantha Smith? She’s the real 12-year-old schoolgirl who in 1982 wrote to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov to ask about the possibility of a nuclear war with the United States. She travelled to the USSR and became an overnight sensation and peace activist. She died in a plane crash on her way back from London in 1985.
Holt uses those events to structure her novel, only her letter writer is Jennifer Jones, perky new kid who moves in across the street from the very sad and lonely Sarah Zuckerman. In many ways Jennifer rescues Sarah from the dark abyss of her home, where her mother recovers from depression with ongoing anxiety, anti-nuke research, and activism. The two girls become fast friends. There are sleep overs, walks to school, phone calls–the usual bonding ritual. After a few years they drift apart, especially as Jennifer becomes an international celebrity. And then the friendship ends forever as Jennifer is lost in a plane crash that leaves her entire family dead.
Sarah grows up, attends college, blooms late, and then, near graduation, receives a letter from Svetlana, a young woman who met Jennifer while she toured the Soviet Union back in the 80s. The letter promises a special tour and more info about Jennifer. Too good to resist, right? Sarah takes the bait and travels to Moscow, but Svetlana is vague and cagey and keeps dropping hints about Jennifer still being alive. When Sarah demands answers Sventlana goes full iron curtain, dodging phone calls and sharing information one drip at time. Why the intrigue? Both Sarah and I were growing impatient.
I flew through the book because I felt desperate to know the full story. Come out, come out wherever you are Jennifer. Are you there? Why are you hiding?