“You Know Who You Are,” Washington-area native Ben Dolnick’s secondcoming-of-age novel, is the story of Jacob Vine. We see him first at age 10, searching for his lost cousin and trying to hold on to the love of his more accomplished older brother. By the end, he’s graduated from college and living in a re-negotiated family.
Jacob’s early life in suburban D.C. is the most nuanced and precise section of the story, providing a complex glimpse into the inner life of a young boy about to jump, arms flailing, into young adulthood. The pre-teen Jacob, a middle child, falls “in love” with his male friends, in the company of whom he learns how to masturbate and fantasize. His mother’s illness unstitches the once tightly sewn family, leaving their father, who moved “like a retired athlete in the site of his former glory,” and the Vine siblings as islands in a sea of grief. Jacob’s first girlfriend is wooed by the tragedy unfolding at home. In fact, his mother’s impending death is his “most important asset,” Dolnick writes, “a dark glow behind his silhouette.”Their first stabs at love is fodder not often seen from a teenage boy’s perspective.