This novel, You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt, is a story about how we view ourselves, the power of childhood friendships, and learning to see the past through adult eyes. It’s a tale of growing up during the cold war, living with a parent who struggles with mental illness, and the difficulty of sorting fact from perception.
The first thing I loved about this book is how well the author captures what friendship is like for young girls. In this book Sarah Zuckerman’s mother is anxious and agoraphobic, her mental illness kicked into high gear after Sarah’s older sister died when Sarah was a baby. Sarah’s father finally gets fed up with his troubled home life and moves back to London. It’s no wonder that Sarah’s friendship with her neighbor, Jennifer Jones, and her outgoing, “all American” family, becomes so important to her.
Sarah and Jennifer decide to write letters to Yuri Andropov asking him to work for peace, and Jennifer’s letter is published in the paper, first in Russia and then in the United States. Although writing Andropov was Sarah’s idea, her letter isn’t mentioned and Jennifer becomes the latest media darling and celebrity.
As Jenny’s fame grows she chooses new friends in school and travels the world making public appearances. Sarah is left alone with her mother who is obsessed with the possibility of nuclear war. But when flying to Maine for to speak, Jennifer and her parents are killed when their plane crashes.
Years later Sarah is about to graduate from college when a letter arrives that gives her the impression that Jenny might not be dead after all. She travels to Russia where she is forced to see the past, her family life, and future with new eyes. She’s also challenged to decide if what she’s being told is true or a scam.
And by the way, I loved the ending.