“I Must Betray You” by Ruta Sepetys
Source: Penguin Teen in exchange for honest review
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
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?
I love a good dystopian novel. If you handed me I Must Betray You without reading this summary, I would have easily believed this was some alternate reality to ours where it’s our world just slightly different. A world where secrets are all around. You can’t trust anyone including family. You can’t speak freely. Eyes are literally every where. It’s chilling to read. It’s an even darker revelation to realize that this was once reality in a not-so-distant past.
Sepetys paints this world fully for the reader. I’m the type of reader that puts myself in the protagonist’s shoes (or sometimes another character) when reading. When starting this book, I thought about what it would take for Cristian (and by extension me) to betray friends and family. It’s easy to say “oh, I wouldn’t betray my loved ones.” Once the scene is set in the novel, you quickly see he was backed into a corner with absolutely no choice. There is no choice. There is no freedom. You feel it completely.
Sepetys always does an amazing job of painting a picture of a time period. I particularly enjoy that she focuses on time periods that aren’t as well known. American schools don’t do a great job showing the history of the rest of the world. We might know the basics but that’s it. We’re taught that Communism is a Bad Thing but I don’t think we’re really taught the full extent of why it’s a bad thing and what that means for those living in that world. I Must Betray You illustrates it a very raw way for me as a reader. It’s a tough read but so worth it (I choked up towards the end).
I could definitely see I Must Betray You being added to a high school history class curriculum when discussing Communism and/or Revolutions. Highly recommended reading!