Cristian has always hated the regime, but one day he is summoned by the Securitate and blackmailed by an agent who tells him that the government will only help his dying grandfather if he spy on a local American diplomat. Suddenly, Cristian faces a dilemma: To protect his grandfather, he must become the thing he and his grandfather hate: an informant. But, as Cristian soon learns, closing deals with the Securitate is never easy, and to complicate matters, a revolution is brewing behind the scenes.
Sepetys is an author known for his mining history of creating compelling novels for young readers. Her first book, Between Shades of Grey, about a Lithuanian girl who was deported to a Siberian labor camp during Stalin’s dictatorship, was a DailyExpertNews bestseller. Subsequent historical stories followed, including “The Fountain of Silence,” which explored Spain under Francisco Franco in 1957, and “Salt to the Sea,” about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff at the end of World War II. With ‘I Must Betray You’, her sixth book, if you count the graphic novel adaptation of ‘Between Shades of Grey’, Sepetys trades her meditative tone for the tension of a spy drama. Tension builds because, even though Cristian is pressured to become an informant, he himself is being watched as well. Between chapters, Sepetys adds Securitate reports to show that nothing Cristian does ever escapes the eye of the state.
The challenges Cristian faces are so extreme and disturbing that it’s easy to forget that they are based on real and recent history. But Sepetys skillfully blends historical details into the story and shares archival photos in the back of the book, creating a story that’s both educational and exciting. If you think the story is going to zigzag, it looks like and you question everything and everyone again. And that’s the power of “I Must Betray You” – it doesn’t just describe the destabilizing effects of being spied on; it will also let you experience them.
Here are some recommendations with the same energy as “I Must Betray You”
“1984”, by George Orwell — Orwell’s classic novel, originally published in 1949, takes on the ideas of surveillance and authoritarianism, creating a dystopian world eerily similar to Romania’s real-life struggle under Nicolae Ceausescu.
“Blue Bird,” by Sharon Cameron — Like “I Must Betray You”, Cameron’s “Bluebird” is a historical YA novel about a teenager confronted with the legacy of a dictatorship. In this case, the story focuses on the aftermath of World War II and explores the “Project Bluebird,” a CIA program to find the Nazi doctors behind mind-control experiments conducted in concentration camps and to support those efforts for the United States to expand.