Header Image

YA Review: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

Title: I Must Betray You
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Year published: 2022
Category: YA fiction (historical)
Pages: 336 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map)Romania

SummaryRomania, 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?

Review: When I chose the books to read for this month, I was in the mood for YA so I've got a bunch sitting on my April pile of books. I love Ruta Sepetys' novels (Fountains of Silence, Out of the Easy, Salt to the Sea, Between Shades of Gray) so knew this one was a great place to start the month. And, historical fiction is one of my favorite genres.

I visited Romania in 1986 (these are my photos above) when it was still under communism and it definitely felt bleak. I don't think I realized how bad it was as I had visited the Soviet Union a few months before and thought the USSR felt even more oppressive. Turns out I wasn't totally correct on that, as I learned from reading this book. I had read Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy before going to Bulgaria and thought it was "cool" to see places she wrote about. I think I saw beautiful monasteries and buildings and friendly people (As I think back, I realize people seemed happier in the rural areas), but I didn't notice the empty roads and poverty. Ah, to be 20 and American.

I found myself willing the characters to move toward revolution, knowing it was coming in a few months. I wanted them to have electricity, food, freedom, and to live without fear. As a reader, I didn't know who the informants were and I think that was cleverly done. It gives the reader a tiny feeling of what those who lived through it felt. There are violent scenes near the end of this book, but they are necessary to tell the story.

The history in this novel is tough to read. Young adults, old people, children, and those in between are all treated equally terribly by a sadistic regime and its secret (or not so secret) police. All while the western world looked on and did nothing.

As with any good historical fiction, there is an excellent afterword in this novel. Sepetys is a meticulous researcher who shares her process, the truth, her sources, and more, making the reading of her books even more powerful.

Challenges for which this counts:
  • Literary Escapes--Romania

No comments