Book Review: I Must Betray You
Updated: Jan 25
Early last December, I received a sneak peek at the first 37 pages of Ruta Sepety's newly released novel I Must Betray You, and I absolutely loved what I read. Apparently, the publisher appreciated what I had to say about those 37 pages and decided to send me the rest of the book so that I could write a pre-publication review. Unfortunately, there were a few hold-ups when it came to shipping a copy to me, so I did not receive my printed edition until January 31... the day before I Must Betray You was supposed to be released! Fortunately, this book is a real page-turner, and I was able to finish all 320 pages in one sitting last night.
I am very impressed by this book, and Ruta Sepetys is becoming one of my favorite authors currently active. Below is a spoiler-free review of her latest work: I Must Betray You.
My Review 4.5/5
I Must Betray You is set in communist Romania in the year leading up to the country's revolution against its totalitarian leaders Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu. The story follows a teenager, Cristian, as he navigates high school, romantic relationships, and the growing unrest within his country. While I read I Must Betray You I was reminded of George Orwell's 1984, as both books explore the same themes and have similar plots. While these books are fiction, I Must Betray You is carefully based on the facts of real-life events. Ruta Sepetys is a talented researcher as well a creative writer, and that research is on full display in her latest work. Sepetys interviewed numerous Romanians who were involved in almost every level and perspective of the revolution; from protesters, informants, soldiers, and even Nadia Comăneci. Thanks to this exhaustive preparation, the reader gets to experience a satisfying depth of history taking place throughout the story.
All of the characters in the story are very dynamic. There is not an underdeveloped character in the book and the internal conflict that the protagonist experiences is visceral. I have much gratitude for Ruta Sepetys writing from the perspective of a teenager, too. The horrors that so many Romanian young people experienced under communism are shocking, but their character and actions during the protests are inspiring.
Because I Must Betray You is based on history, well-written, and covers similar themes as George Orwell's 1984, I would like to see it included in recommended reading lists like the classic work. I certainly gleaned the same insights about communism and living under constant surveillance from I Must Betray You that I remember learning when I read 1984 in high school. However, I had the added benefit of also discovering world history that I had previously not been exposed to. As a 27-year-old man, I found the teenage protagonist to be infinitely more relatable than the middle-aged lead in 1984 as well. I doubt Ruta Sepetys' goal was to write a better version of George Orwell's classic, but she succeeded.
While I am wholly enamored by this novel, no book is perfect. I was able to see a few flaws in the work and my greatest critique of I Must Betray You is that it is 100 pages too short. The story has great development up to the climax but picks up too much speed and free falls to its conclusion as a consequence. The pace in the last 60 pages makes the story feel unbalanced. It is not an unsatisfying ending, but the way it is written leads the reader to conclude that the book was rushed to be completed under unforgiving deadlines.
Grievances aside, I would still highly recommend this book to anyone, including school boards wanting to add new books to their curriculum. Copies of the book are already flying off of shelves or onto e-readers, and I couldn't be more pleased about that. I Must Betray You is another home run for Ruta Sepetys and looks like it could become a new classic in the young-adult genre.
I Must Betray You was released on February 1, 2022. You can buy your copy at a locally owned bookseller or at bookshop.org. Bookshop.org is an alternative to Amazon with a mission to financially support independent book stores. Corey D. Evans received an advance reader's copy of this book and was not financially compensated for his review.