I Must Betray You

Philomel. Feb. 2022. 336p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781984836038.
Gr 9 Up–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. Cristian is a 17-year-old living in Romania in 1989 with his family in the sterile concrete block housing that Ceausescu’s communist state allows, with little to eat and no liberties. When Cristian reluctantly agrees to become an informer to protect his grandfather, nothing is sacred: not his budding relationship with Liliana, not his friendship with Luca, and not his musings about Romania in a notebook that will be a tool to fight back, if he makes that choice. Romania blossoms under Sepetys’s attention to detail which comes from personal interviews, archival research, and traveling. These complexities are then infused into the setting and cast of characters whose surveillance means betrayal lurks everywhere, evidenced by the secret reports resourcefully sprinkled into the narrative. Mysterious as it is thrilling, the book’s short chapters create an atmosphere of impending danger leading to a historical event in Eastern Europe that may be unknown to many yet is necessary to be told. The impending revolution pressurizes Cristian’s next move, reminiscent of Matt Killeen’s Orphan Monster Spy that blurs the line of good and evil.
VERDICT 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.

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