CBR-V Review #36: You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt

You Are One of Them is part coming-of-age story, part mystery. Sarah is a shy, self-conscious girl from a broken home growing up in suburban D.C in the 1980s. Jennifer is her neighbor and best friend, a bubbly, all-American girl with what appears to be the perfect life. With the threat of the Cold War looming, the two girls, at age ten, both write letters to a USSR politician asking for peace. Jenny receives a response and goes on to become an international celebrity before dying, mysteriously and suddenly, in a plane crash. Years after her death, Sarah receives a letter from Moscow suggesting that her death might not be what it seemed, and sets off for Russia to find out the truth.

I thought this book had a ton of promise, but the tone is so muddled that I found it to be far too slow and much less interesting than it could have been. It seemed like Holt couldn’t balance the mystery side of the novel with the humanistic, literary side, and so both suffer as a result. As it was, the mystery was really boring and ultimately pointless.

I much preferred the parts of the book dealing with Sarah and Jenny’s childhood relationship, and I felt like those were the sections where the plot and Holt’s excellent writing came together best. Sarah was a good narrator and Jenny was an interesting character, and those sections felt like they had purpose and direction. It’s when Sarah goes to Russia, interestingly enough, that things fell apart for me. I loved the Russian sections for their descriptions, because I lived in Kazakhstan (also formerly part of the USSR) in the same year that Sarah travels there, and so Holt’s observations of people and place were incredibly spot-on and familiar. The plot in this sections, however, is weak and I found myself skimming pages to get to the end.

Ultimately, I think this book didn’t live up to its potential. It’s Holt’s first novel, though, and I can see her going on to produce some really excellent work in years to come, as she really is a wonderful writer and this book held some glimpses of greatness.

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