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Friday, March 25, 2022

Sepetys' Newest A Powerful, Propulsive Cautionary Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

After more than two decades under the totalitarian rule of President Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania is coming apart at the seams. In financial ruin, the country is beset by shortages of food, medicine, water, and other necessities, making daily life for the average citizen exceptionally bleak. To make matters worse, Ceausescu's spies are always watching. They turn desperate people into informers, turning neighbor against neighbor, causing widespread fear and paranoia. With the government controlling Romania's media and news outlets, the truth of its plight is kept hidden.

Cristian Florescu, a 17-year-old student, just wants to live a normal life. He longs to spend his days peacefully penning poetry and wooing his pretty neighbor. Instead, he worries about his frail grandfather, who's growing increasingly ill without access to the cancer treatments he needs. When the secret police nab Cristian for a minor infraction, they force him to become their spy. In return, he will not be imprisoned and his beloved grandpa will receive care. Cristian has little choice but to comply. Or does he? Can he use his unique position to fight for the freedom of his people? Is it worth it if it costs him everything—and everyone—he loves?

Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite authors of historical fiction for teens. Her newest novel, I Must Betray You, is just another excellent example of why I love her work so much. The book is illuminating, for one, bringing attention to a forgotten piece of world history. I knew nothing of Romania's struggles under communist rule. Sepetys' careful research, which involved talking to Romanians who lived through the events recounted in the book, brings the situation to life in a way that is atmospheric, tense, grim, and heartbreakingly intimate. Her prose echoes the novel's setting and subject matter, with a starkness that helps the reader really feel the characters' anxiety, paranoia, helplessness, and desperation. Short chapters keep the pacing on target, adding suspense to an already compelling tale. Despite all the bleakness, the novel does end on a hopeful note. Although it's an unhappy story with a realistically messy ending, I Must Betray You is a riveting, moving book and a powerful cautionary tale about the horror that results when a country is governed by a greedy, hateful megalomaniac. This is an incredible work of historical fiction and Sepetys at her very best (although it's actually not my favorite of her novels). I can't encourage you enough to read it.  

(Readalikes: Reminds me of books about life in Nazi Germany as well as in communist countries like North Korea)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

7 comments:

  1. I'm really excited to read this one. I'm glad you liked it as much as you did. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love Sepetys, too. I haven't read this particular book, yet, but I want to. :)

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  3. Oh wow. I'm so glad you enjoyed this.

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  4. This really sounds good. I have vivid memories of the execution of the dictator and his wife and how the wife kept hollering at her executioners right up until the rifles fired. I need to read this one.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Susan! I also love Ruta Sepetys' books and I have seen this one around. Great review!

    I have students whose mother comes from Romania, don't know a lot about the history either, but seeing that I really like this mommy, I think I'll give this one a try.

    Have a wonderful week ahead!

    Elza Reads

    ReplyDelete
  6. I am so glad to see you give this novel an A since I love Sepetys' books. This one is on my list to read soon!

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  7. Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite historical fiction authors as well. I haven't read this one yet, but I will to get to it soon. Great review!

    ReplyDelete

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