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  • Writer's pictureKellie Burke

Review: I Must Betray You

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

I Must Betray You by Ruth Sepetys

Picture of the book cover of I Must Betray You, featuring a boy holding a flag and walking toward a large gray building.

Living in constant fear and paranoia is the norm in 1989 Romania, under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu and his secret police. 17 year old Cristian Florescu has been taught to trust no one, to whisper in his own apartment because it's bugged, and that someone is always watching. But he wasn't careful enough as he gets cornered by the secret police and forced to become an informer. Inspired by his outspoken (and dying) grandfather, Cristian starts a dangerous game of trying to undermine the regime while lying to everyone he loves by informing. Including Lilliana, the girl across the street that he has been in love with for years.

Learning through an illegal broadcast of Radio America that communist countries around the world are starting to fall Cristian wants to push for Romania to be next. But what can a 17 year old do? And at what cost?

My Thoughts

Ruth Sepetys writes amazing YA historical fiction and often focuses on aspects of history that get overlooked within a larger, well-known context. I have also read Between Shades of Gray, which takes place during WWII but follows a Lithuanian girl forced from her home and sent to a Siberian work camp. I Must Betray You follows the same pattern: the larger context being the fall of the Soviet Union and the lesser known dictatorship in Romania. Beyond being a fantastic writer and storyteller, Sepetys sheds light on history that often doesn't make the textbooks.

The novel is suspenseful due to the very nature of living under the Ceausescu's regime and Sepetys emphasizes the very regular lives of these characters who nonetheless live in constant fear. Cristian gets pulled in by the secret police for simply possessing an American dollar bill. The paranoia that lies under every move, conversation, and interaction is what is so frightening; Cristian has to monitor everything he says to his family, best friend, and Lilliana. The toll that takes is heartbreaking.

What I believe sets Sepetys apart from many historical fiction writers is how she weaves historical detail into her story, allowing the reader to feel immersed in the setting without it reading like a history lecture. Standing in line for hours for expired food; risking attack by wild roaming dogs; hoarding Kent cigarettes to use as a main form of currency as money is worthless. These are details that make life in 1989 Romania feel real and give immediacy to Cristian's story.

Highly recommend that teen and adult fans of historical fiction read I Must Betray You.

Book Information

Author: Ruth Sepetys

Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group

Publish Date: February 1, 2022

Genre(s): historical fiction Themes: loyalty, betrayal, hope Protagonist Description: 17 year old boy, straight, Romanian Trigger Warnings: violence

I received an ARC (advanced reader copy) of this book for free from NetGalley and Penguin Young Readers Group . This is my honest review and all opinions are my own.

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