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You Are One of Them
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Zeller

With all the kitschy ’80s nostalgia we’ve seen in the past few years (shoulder pads! Hall & Oates!), it can be hard to remember the Russian arms race paranoia that also defined the decade.

The FX hit The Americans deftly takes on the darker points of the period--as does Elliott Holt’s much-anticipated debut novel, You Are One of Them, which hits bookstores this week.

Beginning in 1980s Washington, D.C., You Are One Them tells the story of Sarah Zuckerman, a precocious, nuclear-war-obsessed 10-year-old whose best friend, Jenny, becomes a child ambassador after writing a letter to Soviet premier Yuri Andropov. Jenny’s newfound celebrity strains the girls’ relationship--that is, until Jenny dies in a 1985 plane crash.

Ten years later, Sarah still harbors ambivalence toward her friend (she thinks of her disappearance as “defection”). But when she receives a letter suggesting Jenny’s death may have been a hoax, she sets off for Moscow to uncover the truth.

Moving back and forth between Cold War-fearing ’80s suburbia (think phone taps and fallout bunkers) and newly capitalist ’90s Russia, Holt’s shrewd narrative takes on issues of friendship, abandonment and secrets--with a healthy dose of spy-novel intrigue thrown in.

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