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Reviews of I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

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

    Paperback:
    May 2023, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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About this Book

Book Summary

A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray.

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.

1
Unu

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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. "Their bodies were owned by the State" (page 40). In Chapter 10, Cici was visibly affected by the examination with the "baby police" at the factory. The subtext indicates that in Romania, the larger the population, the more prosperous the state. Would you agree that Cristian's mother—who only had two children—felt the pressure of this responsibility for her country? What does that say about women's roles during this time in Romania?
  2. The radio is a prized possession in Cristian's household. Bunu even went to great lengths—such as selling cartons of Kents—to fix it. The information it relays isn't trustworthy, yet Romanians listen all the same. Why do you think that is? What does the radio symbolize to them? How...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Included after the epilogue are archival photographs of people, events and daily life in communist Romania, along with a detailed author's note about the revolution and Sepetys's writing process. These additions provide a welcome visual accompaniment to Cristian's story and drive home the stark reality of life in Romania at the time. Cristian is a conflicted yet courageous narrator, and his experiences, unrelatable to most of us, provide an unflinching glimpse into life under Romania's communist regime and the bravery of those who fought against it...continued

Full Review (716 words)

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(Reviewed by Jordan Lynch).

Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review
As educational as it is thrilling…[T]he power of I Must Betray You [is] it doesn't just describe the destabilizing effects of being spied on; it will make you experience them too.

BookPage
A master class in pacing and atmosphere.

Booklist (starred review)
Sepetys once again masterfully portrays a dark, forgotten corner of history.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Told from Cristian's point of view, intercut by secret police memos and Cristian's own poetry, the novel crackles with energy; Cristian and his friends join the groundswell of young Romanians, combining pragmatism, subterfuge, hope, and daring. While the story ends with joy on Christmas Day, the epilogue recounts the betrayals and losses that follow. The last line will leave readers gasping. Compulsively readable and brilliant.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Sepetys unveils the culture of constant surveillance in communist Romania through an ominously suspenseful historical novel set at the brink of revolution...Cristian's tense first-person narrative foregrounds stark historical realities...unflinchingly confronting deprivations and cruelty while balancing them with perseverance and hope as Romania hurtles toward political change.

School Library Journal (starred review)
Sepetys's latest book maintains the caliber readers have come to expect from an author whose focus on hidden histories has made her a YA powerhouse of historical ­fiction…Sepetys is a formidable writer, and her stories declare the need to write about global issues of social injustice. For that reason and her attention to detail, this is a must-read.

Reader Reviews

Alana

An amazing read
I am in a book club at my school and we were given this book for the month to read and it is an amazing book. I love how it gets tense and that when you are reading the book it feels like you’re watching a movie because you can see pictures when you’...   Read More
Betty J Taylor

Very Powerful
Powerful story of the oppression of Romanian citizens under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu. Set in 1989, the story follows the day-to-day life of 17-year-old Cristian Florescu. I never realized the extent to which paranoia and fear ruled their ...   Read More
techeditor

Historical Fiction About Romania's Little-Known Revolt Against Communism
At a neighborhood picnic last summer, one of my neighbors introduced himself in his accented voice and said that he's from Romania. "Have you heard of it?" he asked. I was surprised he asked me that and said, "Of course!" He...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Nicolae Ceauşescu (1918-1989)

Postage stamp commemorating Nicolae Ceausecu's 70th birthdayRuta Sepetys's young adult novel I Must Betray You tells the story of Cristian Florescu, a Romanian teenager living at the pinnacle of the country's communist era in 1989. Cristian is blackmailed into being an informant for the Securitate, the government's secret police, forcing him to grapple with his guilt at betraying those he cares for and his fear of punishment if he fails to provide information. Such was the reality for many Romanians during the final years of communism who worked, willingly or not, to maintain the rule of the country's leader, Nicolae Ceauşescu.

Ceauşescu (pronounced chow-SHESK-oo) was born in southern Romania in 1918. After escaping an abusive household at the age of 11, he ventured to Bucharest, the ...

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Read-Alikes

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