I Must Betray You – 4.5 Star Review

How could we expect others to feel our pain or hear our cries for help when all we could do was whisper?

-Ruta Sepetys, I Must Betray You

One of my traveling book groups selected I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys to mail around, and it was my turn for the month of August to red it. I’ve read Salt to the Sea by this author a few years back, and it’s one of my favorite YA historical fiction stories, so I was excited to read another book by her.

I Must Betray You follows a seventeen year old boy named Cristian, living in Romania, who becomes a reluctant informer for the strict-communist government in the year 1989. Cristian and his family live in absolutely abysmal conditions, where the government controls nearly every facet of their lives. Informers live in their apartment buildings, roam their schools and streets. Whispering in your own living space could be a death sentence. I Must Betray You details Cristian’s informer duties and through the Romanian Revolution in December of 1989. In an act of secret rebellion, Cristian keeps a journal detailing their oppression and squalid living conditions in a hope that his words would reach outsiders and help encourage the Romanians to ban together to overthrow their government.

I had absolutely no knowledge of these events, as I was one year old when all of this took place, and my “great” public school education taught me nothing about this. Some events (especially during the Revolution protests) were true accounts told to Sepetys from survivors and re-written for her characters, which is just so heartbreaking. The citizens were secretly watched and listened to at every point in their day, and it’s easy to see how fear and suspicion can fester when you never know who you can trust. Families had to wait in ration lines upwards of an entire day to get a single potato. Romanian money had no value since everything was rationed, so bribes often occurred in the forms of cartons of cigarettes for things like healthcare and dentistry.

In the back pages of the book, Sepetys provides some pictures from places and events that are detailed in the story and explains her research methods and interviews that she conducted while writing this book. The amount of research and detail about these historical events was extremely thorough and reminded me of the research that Lisa See does for her own historical fiction. The chapters are short and the book is a fast read. Sepetys writes wonderfully haunting, yet hopeful historical fiction stories that I now believe are must reads. My only complaint is that when the Revolution begins, it feels like the story progresses almost too quickly, which is why I docked a half-star. This may have been intentional in order to keep it in the YA category, because even what we do read about during the Revolution and protesting is still pretty jarring.

I plan to read the rest of Sepetys’ work, especially since I know how much love and care she puts into getting the historical elements exactly right. If you’re looking for a fast paced read with lovable characters, and maybe looking to learn a thing or two, I highly recommend I Must Betray You!

-Review by Kelly

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