I love Ruta Sepetys books so much and when I found out her latest book would be set in Romania during the fall of communism, I was immediately intrigued – once again she would be introducing me to a time and a place I knew very little about.
From the publisher marketing:
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.
I’m starting to think that I’m getting to the point with Ruta that I did with Elizabeth Wein. I still love her books, but I may be outgrowing them. While both authors were ones I always wholeheartedly recommended to adult readers as well, I’ve felt that their latest books will be most loved by high schoolers, even middle grade readers. So please know, this is a good book, it’s just not hitting the same notes with me now that I’m on the other side of 30. If Ruta ever wants to retool this as an adult book, I’d love to get it from Cristian’s sister’s perspective.
I Must Betray You is most akin to Salt to the Sea in its style of short chapters, each ending with a cliffhanger. It is, in and of itself, a compelling story. My best friend studied abroad in Romania in 2005-6 and from what she told me of the Romanian people, you would never have imagined that they had gone through such hell only 16 years before. While reading, the only comparison I could think to make was to what I had read about North Korea in My Holiday in North Korea, as well as the cult of personality created by the orange buffoon who was in office before Biden.
It’s a dangerous thing, to have people so wrapped up in what their neighbors are doing, what their family members are doing, ratting each other out to gain favor with the party. To live in terror, it must have been beyond exhausting, it’d be a shock if you didn’t go paranoid. You could do everything correctly, and people would frame you, make things up, lie about you. Our protagonist, Cristian, is a compelling character and it is interesting to see how his life unfolds in the lead up to the revolution of 1989.
His relationships with his friends, a girl he likes, and his family, all shed light on how fearful the people were about being disappeared. His grandfather remembers the time before Ceaușescu and is outspoken about the changes that he despises. Cristian’s parents have all but shut themselves out of the world, not wanting to engage or give anyone any ammunition against them.
When Cristian joins his mother at her job cleaning for the American ambassador, things really get interesting and Cristian becomes even more suspicious of who may have given his name to the secret police and ultimately, it was a surprise to find out who the traitor in his circle really is.
Ultimately, it’s a great book, perfect for high school students, but not so perfect for me. I found the overall reading less engaging, though I do understand why Ruta wrote it as she did. I will wholeheartedly recommend it to schools, students, and teachers, but will probably hold off on encouraging adult readers to purchase it.
Rating: 7 out of 10