Excerpt from I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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I Must Betray You

by Ruta Sepetys

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys X
I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2022, 336 pages

    May 2023, 400 pages


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Jordan Lynch
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Fear arrived at five o'clock.

It was October. A gray Friday.

If I had known? I would have run. Tried to hide.

But I didn't know.

Through the dim half-­light of the school corridor I spotted my best friend, Luca. He walked toward me, passing the tedious sign shouting from the concrete wall.

New Men of Romania:

Long live Communism—­the bright future of mankind!

At the time, my mind churned on something far from communism. Something more immediate.

School dismissed at 7:00 p.m. If I left at the right moment, I'd fall into step with her—­the quiet girl with the hair hiding her eyes. It would feel coincidental, not forced.

Luca's tall, thin frame edged in beside me. "It's official. My stomach's eating itself."

"Here." I handed him my small pouch of sunflower seeds.

"Thanks. Did you hear? The librarian says you're a bad influence."

I laughed. Maybe it was true. Teachers referred to Luca as "sweet" but said I was sarcastic. If I was the type to throw a punch, Luca was the type to break up a fight. He had an eagerness about him, while I preferred to evaluate and watch from afar.

We paused so Luca could talk to a group of loud girls. I waited, impatient.

"Hei, Cristian," smiled one of the girls. "Nice hair, do you cut it with a kitchen knife?"

"Yeah," I said softly. "Blindfolded." I gave Luca a nod and continued down the hall alone.

"Pupil Florescu!"

The voice belonged to the school director. He lingered in the hallway, speaking with a colleague. Comrade Director shifted his weight, trying to appear casual.

Nothing was ever casual.

In class, we sat erect. Comrade Instructor lectured, bellowing at our group of forty students. We listened, stock still and squinting beneath the sickly light. We were marked "present" in attendance but were often absent from ourselves.

Luca and me, we wore navy suits and ties to liceu. All boys did. Girls, navy pinafores and white hair bands. Embroidered badges sewn onto our uniforms identified which school we attended. But in the fall and winter, our school uniforms weren't visible. They were covered by coats, knitted mufflers, and gloves to combat the bitter cold of the unheated cement building.

Cold and dark. Knuckles aching. It's hard to take notes when you can't feel your fingers. It's difficult to concentrate when the electricity snaps off.

The director cleared his throat. "Pupil Florescu," he repeated. "Proceed to the office. Your father has left a message for you."

My father? My father never came to school. I rarely saw him. He worked twelve-­hour shifts, six days a week at a furniture factory.

A slithering knot coiled inside my stomach. "Yes, Comrade Director."

I proceeded to the office as I was told.

Could outsiders understand? In Romania, we did as we were told.

We were told a lot of things.

We were told that we were all brothers and sisters in communism. Addressing each other with the term "comrade" reinforced that we were all equal, with no social classes to divide us. Good brothers and sisters in communism followed rules.

I pretended to follow rules. I kept things to myself, like my interest in poetry and philosophy. I pretended other things too. I pretended to lose my comb, but really just preferred my hair spiky. I pretended not to notice when girls were looking at me. And this one—­I pretended that studying English was a commitment to my country.

"Words are weapons. I'll be able to fight our American and British enemies with words, not only guns."

That's what I said.

Our weapons course was called Preparing Youth for Defending the Country. We began training with guns at age fourteen in school. Is that old or young compared to other countries? I remember jotting that question in my secret notebook.

Excerpted from I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys. Copyright © 2022 by Ruta Sepetys. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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