Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones are best friends in an upscale part of Washington, DC, in the politically charged 1980s. Sarah is the shy, wary product of an unhappy home: her father abandoned the family to return to his native England; her agoraphobic mother is obsessed with fears of nuclear war. Jenny is an all-American girl who has seemingly perfect parents. With Cold War rhetoric reaching a fever pitch in 1982, the 10-year-old girls write letters to Soviet premier Yuri Andropov asking for peace. But only Jenny's letter receives a response, and Sarah is left behind when her friend accepts the Kremlin's invitation to visit the USSR and becomes an international media sensation. The girls' icy relationship still hasn’t thawed when Jenny and her parents die tragically in a plane crash in 1985. 10 years later, Sarah is about to graduate from college when she receives a mysterious letter from Moscow suggesting that Jenny's death might have been a hoax. She sets off to the former Soviet Union in search of the truth, but the more she delves into her personal Cold War history, the harder it is to separate fact from propaganda. You Are One of Them is a taut, moving debut about the ways in which we define ourselves against others and the secrets we keep from those who are closest to us. In this insightful forensic of a mourned friendship, Holt illuminates the long-lasting sting of abandonment and the measures we take to bring back those we have lost.
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This book had what was a great premise - 2 best friends in Cold War DC send letters to Gorbachev telling him they love their parents & country & please end the Cold War & don't blow up the U.S. However, he only received one of them, it appears, & Jenny, the girl whose letter "made it", is feted around both the Soviet Union & the U.S., basking in her fame & new spot as a "popular girl" in a school where once she was mediocre. Sarah, the one whose idea it was to write him in the first place, is ignored, given no credit, & pretty much thrown away by her once-best friend. Then Jenny & her parents are killed in a plane crash, & even though the last year Jenny was alive they weren't friends at all, Sarah spends the rest of her life through college moping & missing her friend & wondering what could have been & why her friend betrayed her by never mentioning that the letter was Sarah's idea to begin with, & blah, & blah, & blah. After college, she gets a few messages hinting that Jenny might be alive, so flies to Moscow to find out. The set-up to this point was so long, I thought there would have to be a payoff coming, but I thought wrong. "Drawn out" doesn't come close to explaining what that part of the book was. When I got close to the end (about the "reveal", all I can say is, "well, duh!), I kept holding out for something with a punch, but I'm the eternal optimist. This book tried its darnedest to kill that in me.
I never liked either of the main characters; Jenny is a manipulative user from moment one, & though you can forgive Sarah as a child for doing anything to have a friend, after being left by her narcissistic dad with her wacko, screwed-up mom, Sarah as an adult is so inept & beyond naive - truly stupid - refusing to to help herself or defend herself or make a good life for herself, or...ACT, do SOMEthing, ANYthing, that I came to despise her for her self-victimization. As an adult, she should have been able to look back & see what a manipulator Jenny was, but no, she still mopes after the friend she lost. Her life is wrapped-up in that, & nothing else
The author spends an inordinate amount of time name-dropping (I didn't know you could actually DO that, in a book, but she has!!), & also canNOT stop belaboring points. Any point. All points. Each point is strung out so long I felt beat up at the end (I've GOT it already, lady!). She refuses to just tell the story, but continues on & on & on & on & on & on with more details & details & details, none of which move the story an inch. "Show, don't tell" is a writing rule she either didn't learn or thought it couldn't possibly apply to her. Phew. I need a looooong nap ... after a big glass of wine, finishing this book! ) Wow! Listening was physically tiring. (See what I did there? I belabored the point myself.😛) Too bad, because the author actually can write well. She needs to learn to be ruthless and slash any explanations she writes by about 8/10s.
The WHOLE book is read in the same gloomy, dispirited, almost monosyllabic manner, with no emphases or anything positive (even when speaking of good, happy things, the narrator reads them with such a flat affect that it sounds as if she truly should be in therapy & on psychotropic meds), but only reads with drudgery, dullness, & depression. The narrator also should have researched a bit about the greater DC area, as she mispronounced so many places.. I wish I'd written them down, but all I can hear is her "Mac-Clean" for McLean, Va (pronounced "m'clane") ringing (grating) in my ears. First time I've ever heard of Benetton from "The United Colors of Benetton" pronounced as "benna-TEN" (emphasis on last - mispronounced - syllable), either. If you've never said a word out loud before, narrators, ASK SOMEONE WHO KNOWS! A peeve of mine...can ya tell? Ahem.
So disappointing. This was one I wanted to like, but I did not. It's not a 1-star book because it's too well-written & the story is plausible, but I just couldn't stretch it to 3 stars. I was too tired.