You Are One of Them

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You Are One of Them
AuthorsElliott Holt
PublisherPenguin Press
Publication date

You Are One of Them is a 2013 novel by Elliott Holt. It is based on the true story of American schoolgirl Samantha Smith who wrote to Yuri Andropov, the Premier of the Soviet Union, at the height of the Cold War. Despite being Holt's first novel, it was widely reviewed. Critics praised Holt's use of language and description of characters, while others expressed reservations about its genre.


The title comes from the poem In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop.[1][2]

The novel is based on a true story.[1] During the Cold War, a young American girl called Samantha Smith corresponded with Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov, who invited her to the Soviet Union.[1][3] She died in a plane crash upon returning to the United States.[1]


Set in 1982 during the Cold War era, a ten-year-old American girl called Jenny Jones writes to the Soviet Premier asking him why he would want to use the nuclear bomb.[4] He replies, saying he only wants peace, and invites her to the Soviet Union.[4] After the correspondence is published in Pravda, she tours the Soviet Union and dies in a plane crash.[4] More than ten years later, in 1996, her friend Sarah Zuckerman visits the new Russia, then under President Boris Yeltsin, after she hears from Svetlane, a Russian woman suggesting her friend might not be dead, but may have defected to Russia instead.[4]

Critical reception[edit]

The novel was widely reviewed. It received mostly positive reviews. In Bookforum, Roxane Gay called it, "a novel of grand and intimate scope, artfully balanced between the political and personal," adding that it was both "a compelling character study and a psychological thriller."[5] However, she added that the prologue as unnecessary.[5] In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Nathan Deuel suggested it was "as convincing and absorbing a portrait of post-Soviet Russia as you'll read," but quickly added, "at its heart, it's also about America."[6] She also praised Holt's descriptions and details in characters, adding that the book broaches the topic of mental health when we are faced with the threat of destruction.[6]

In The Boston Globe, Max Winter praised Holt's use of the narrator, "who comes at us with offhand force in the same way certain movie voice-overs color an entire narrative with simple inflections of tone."[7] He added that there was "nothing performative" about it.[7] Writing for NPR, Lidia Jean Kott described the novel as, "beautifully subtle."[8] Natalie Bakopoulos of the San Francisco Gate argued that it "beautifully compress[ed] and expand[ed] time, place and the boundaries of the self."[1] Novelist Maggie Shipstead, writing in The New York Times, said that Holt's descriptions were, "fascinating, slyly funny and full of melancholy details."[3] She concluded that it was, "a hugely absorbing first novel from a writer with a fluid, vivid style and a rare knack for balancing the pleasure of entertainment with the deeper gratification of insight."[3]

Other critics were negative. In The Los Angeles Times, Alexander Nazaryan called it, "an odd hybrid of bildungsroman and thriller," adding that it did not "quite know what it wants to be."[9] He concluded, "Holt never pull[ed] the narrative strings tightly enough."[9] While Jesse Baron of The New York Observer praised Holt's "creative" use of language, he deplored that the novel was "somehow conventional in its prose."[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e Natalie Bakopoulos, 'You Are One of Them,' by Elliott Holt, San Francisco Gate, June 21, 2013
  2. ^ Donna Rifkind, Book World: Elliott Holt’s ‘You Are One of Them’ is a crafty, confident first novel, The Washington Post, June 7, 2013
  3. ^ a b c Maggie Shipstead, Cold War, Cooled Heart, The New York Times, May 24, 2013
  4. ^ a b c d You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt (Penguin Press), The New Yorker
  5. ^ a b Roxane Gay, You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt, Book Forum, June 12, 2013
  6. ^ a b Nathan Deuel, A Former Soviet Union: Elliott Holt's "You Are One of Them", The Los Angeles Review of Books, November 27, 2013
  7. ^ a b Max Winter,‘You Are One of Them’ by Elliott Holt, The Boston Globe, June 12, 2013
  8. ^ Lidia Jean Kott, Author Elliott Holt Says: 'Go West, Young Woman', NPR, May 18, 2013
  9. ^ a b Alexander Nazaryan, 'You Are One of Them' is part coming-of-age, part thriller, The Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2013
  10. ^ Jesse Baron, From Russia With Love: Elliott Holt’s Post-Soviet Coming-of-Age Debut, The New York Observer, May 28, 2013