I received this book for free from ALAN Workshop in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Published by Penguin on February 1, 2022
Genres: JUVENILE FICTION / General, Young Adult Fiction / Family / General, Young Adult Fiction / Historical / Europe, YOUNG ADULT FICTION / Thrillers & Suspense / Espionage
Source: ALAN Workshop
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Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren't free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.
Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He's left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves--or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.
Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?
Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys is back with a historical thriller that examines the little-known history of a nation defined by silence, pain, and the unwavering conviction of the human spirit.
Praise for I Must Betray You:
"As educational as it is thrilling...[T]he power of I Must Betray You [is] it doesn't just describe the destabilizing effects of being spied on; it will make you experience them too." -New York Times Book Review
"A historical heart-pounder...Ms. Sepetys, across her body of work, has become a tribune of the unsung historical moment and a humane voice of moral clarity." -The Wall Street Journal
* "Sepetys brilliantly blends a staggering amount of research with heart, craft, and insight in a way very few writers can. Compulsively readable and brilliant." -Kirkus Reviews, starred review
* "Sepetys once again masterfully portrays a dark, forgotten corner of history." -Booklist, starred review
* "Sepetys's latest book maintains the caliber readers have come to expect from an author whose focus on hidden histories has made her a YA powerhouse of historical fiction...Sepetys is a formidable writer, and her stories declare the need to write about global issues of social injustice. For that reason and her attention to detail, this is a must-read." -School Library Journal, starred review
* "Cristian's tense first-person narrative foregrounds stark historical realities, unflinchingly confronting deprivations and cruelty while balancing them with perseverance and hope as Romania hurtles toward political change." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Sepetys keeps readers riveted to this vivid, heartbreaking and compelling novel, locked into every meticulously researched detail. I Must Betray You demands a full investment from its audience--through poetic writing, sympathetic characters, revolutionary plot and pacing, it grips the heart and soul and leaves one breathless." -Shelf Awareness, starred review
"A master class in pacing and atmosphere." -BookPage
I’m not usually into reading thrillers because it sets my anxiety levels off too much. But when I began reading I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys, I thought I was reading straight historical fiction. Correction! I was reading a historical thriller. The cherry on top was that Ruta Sepetys writes about little-known history, so I really leaned into the story instead of googling everything which made the suspense that much more intense. ( I did google Nadia Comaneci though… I couldn’t resist when I heard how she escaped Romania.)
The reason why I am writing the review this way is because I absolutely want you to read this book and I absolutely do not want to provide any spoilers. I was so glad that I just jumped into this book without looking anything up. Basically, I was asked if I wanted to read it and participate in a one-time online book club with the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE (ALAN) and I said yes. I was vaguely familiar with the author as a historical fiction writer before this, but that was it.
So here are five things I loved about I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys:
1. Historical Fiction Includes the 80s and 90s now…
I have always been and will always be a fan of historical fiction. I think of it as a two-for-one special. You get a good story and it opens a pathway of inquiry for you to learn more about an era in history than you might have normally. But does it hurt my chest a little that the historical fiction range now includes the late eighties? Yes, it does. What got me with this story about Romania in 1989 was that you almost felt like the story was really set in WWII. The way the Romanian people were being forced to live was inhumane and cruel. Which leads me to my next reason.
2. Little-known History is Addictive
Unless you are an expert on Eastern Europe, this book will take the little tidbits, stereotypes and mirages you have about Romania and crack them wide open. I mean I have rarely heard Romania mentioned in pop culture unless it is in reference to Transylvania. Even the main character Christian Florescu mentions this. The author spoke about having to do interviews with Romanians in addition to her traditional research.
I just kept thinking as I was reading…this is so wild! In 1989, I was a kid while this character was a teenager and I was just sitting in my school desk on the other side of the world absolutely clueless about the intricacies of the Cold War. I had no idea about the repercussions on the countries controlled by the Soviets after WWII. I am currently engrossed in reading the rest of Ruta Sepetys’ books because I crave more of these types of stories.
3. Christian Florescu is My Male Protagonist Hero
So I will admit, my preference for a protagonist is usually a female character. But the thriller aspect of the book, (you never know who is snitching on who) had me so caught up that I did not care that Christian is a boy. He is a teenager struggling with how to use his voice to fight the injustice he sees as well as to just feel like a whole human being. He has typical teen issues like figuring out how to get the girl and trying to maintain his privacy. But he also deals with these monumental, put-gray-hair-on-your-head-before-you-hit-20 issues. The kid is being blackmailed to become an informer. You can’t even apply “snitches get stitches” in Romania at this time, because everyone HAD to snitch on someone to survive. Basically, if you didn’t snitch you were either going to go missing or end up dead sooner rather than later.
4. Who Do You Trust?
There are so many twists and turns in this book! Christian is a writer and he wants to help expose the poverty, fear and abuse that is happening to his people to the world. Everything is bugged. The communist regime listens to everyone and has everyone listening to everyone. Being a writer, even if it is just personal writing is dangerous for him. He wants to be part of the revolution. But when he is told he must become an informant or suffer the consequences his world tips upside down just in time for the actual revolution to begin.
Being an informer, makes him feel like a traitor to his people and especially to his family. Particularly he feels torn because of his bunu (grandfather) who often speaks to him about forbidden things that would have him considered a dissident.
5. Quick & Intense Read
Fair warning. I finished this book in two days and one of those nights I stayed up to almost 3 am because the story got so intense. I was determined to figure out who was informing on who, just like Christian is in the book. This novel was so good and so intense! I immediately began working on reading Ruta Sepetys’ other books because I just was so blown away by I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys.
HAVE A SIP OF COCOA ☕…
I came for…historical fiction
I stayed for… the intensity of not knowing who to trust in the story
Hot Cocoa Moments: The sister’s contraband basket was something else. She had everything in there! And I never would’ve guessed that tampons would be a highly sought after item to trade.
Would I Read it Again: Yes. I’d also watch a movie if it were made…
Educator Recommendations: Your students will love this one. The intensity of the book will keep them reading and then during and after, you will have plenty to discuss. I would talk to students about movements begun my youth; the importance of writing and the power it has to create change; the power of betrayal and deceit. If you have the ability, team up as an English teacher with a History teacher and really dig into the time in history. You can do an investigation on how the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu was able to deceive the world about what was going on in Romania and how he stole from the Romanian people.
Explore the thematic concept of the power of writing and take it to another level by looking at both Christian’s actions as a young writer and then exploring the author, Ruta Sepetys and her reasons for writing stories that feature little-known history. You may even be able to get her to visit your class!
Check out my review of Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel