This month our famous little Oklahoma Book Club, Dinner Club With a Reading Problem, devoured a novel by young American female author Elliott Holt. You are One of Them was just published last year and is the author’s fiction debut. I LOVED it. I read it in 24 hours, gleaned a ton of understanding as well as new curiosity, and was perfectly satisfied with the ending. THAT is a fabulous reading experience!
This novel is almost a bit of historical fiction, following the political and cultural framework of the United States and the Soviet Union from the 1970s to present day. So I loved it for that reason. But it is also a lusciously insightful story of a girl who became a woman and navigated complex female bonds in the same decades I did. Do you know how few books are out there that detail exactly the things I treasured about my girlhood friendships? Not many. I loved it for that reason, too. As if all of that’s not enough, Holt’s storytelling and prose are just as strong and seductive as you’d hope for in a book you read in the final cold days of winter. The story, after all, takes place in large part in the frozen, daunting landscape of Mother Russia.
There’s something painfully honest about winter: the skeletal trees, the brutal repetition of the cold. There are no empty promises, no hazy humid hopes. It’s reality, lonely and stark.
Side Note: Book club found it really nifty that we accidentally read a novel set in Russia during the Sochi Olympics. Total accident. Very cool.
While the story may be touted as one family’s ground-level experience of the Cold War years, and it certainly is that, I would also describe it as being every bit as much a telling of how a broken little girl becomes a strong, capable woman. I feel like Holt almost uses the Cold War and its risky, duplicitous complexities as a metaphor for how women and girls relate to each other. These can be the most dangerous relationships in life, right? I can totally hear you nodding your head dramatically right now.
At school I learned to catch my sorrow in my throat and then stick my head into my locker and let the tears slide down my cheeks without making any vibration at all.
As I read, I rooted for one thing to happen or another, and I slowly realized that similar bursts of espionage are at play in my own life. The pacifist in me had to admit that I have been resisting peace on some fronts for too long. Not only that; I have also been stubborn in my own sense of rightness. For far too long.
I have come to believe that forgiveness is the key to survival. It does no good to see everything as a struggle between opposing factions. Few things are that simple.
I so enjoyed this book that I hope you will track it down, read it, and let me know what you think.
- What did you think of the friendship with Jenny?
- What about the divorce and the estrangement from her father?
- What about her mother’s fearfulness and distant love?
- Tell me what you think of the ending!!
Dinner Club With a Reading problem met on Thursday night and such a great time! I LOVE these girls. For the most part we all agreed that You are One of Them was a good book. The female bonds were interesting and believable. We all agreed the ending was a relief, though I won’t spoil that for you. We also agreed that we never ever wish to visit Russia. Was this the author’s intention? It’s hard to guess, because apparently she worked as a journalist in Russia, much like one of the characters in her book. Interesting.
I give this breakout novel by Elliott Holt 5 stars. I hope you track it down and give it a few days of quietude then let me know what you think.
“I was tired of straight jacketing my emotions.”