"I Must Betray You" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
There’s much to be learned in the heartfelt, illuminating thriller “I Must Betray You” by Ruta Sepetys. The award-winning author continues her string of historical fiction must-reads with a young adult novel about Romania, set during Nicolae Ceausescu’s oppressive rule.
The dictator came to power in the 1960s and created a communist regime that bred poverty, terror and distrust. His regime ended in 1989 when Ceausescu and his wife were executed following a revolution begun by Romanian students. These young people, often not even bearing arms, courageously attacked Ceausescu loyalists.
Sepetys became interested in Romania while researching a previous book she wrote, and her admiration and empathy for what the Romanians endured is passionately evident in “I Must Betray You.” Sepetys’ earnest tale is narrated by Christian Florescu, a 17-year-old would-be writer living during the country’s tumultuous years when the only news from the outside world came from Voice of America broadcasts.
Distrust between friends and family ran deep, no one trusted anyone else because of the Securitate, secret police, who pressured individuals to spy for them. (As many as one in 10 individuals is estimated to have provided information, Sepetys writes in her Author’s Note.)
When Christian is approached by the Securitate to spy on an American diplomat his mother cleans house for, he must comply—refusing will endanger his family and agreeing will provide medicine for his beloved grandfather, dying from leukemia. Christian’s parents, sister and grandfather know nothing of his involvement, one that demands he dig deep and report his findings about the diplomat regularly to a scary man Christian calls "paddle hands," because his hands are so large.
Also included in the story are Christian’s friend, Luca, and Liliana, a girl at school who returns Christian’s affection, a love interest developing between them that soon is fraught with distrust. Through no fault of their own the three teens become enmeshed in the bloody revolution.
Though “I Must Betray You” is designated YA, it’s a crossover read adults will enjoy. It provides incredible facts on a horrible time in Romania that didn't immediately correct itself, even after the revolution. I highly recommend this novel and plan on sharing it with my teenage granddaughters.