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First Look: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

I was fortunate this week to get a sneak peek at the first 37 pages of New York Times Bestselling Author Ruta Sepetys' upcoming release I Must Betray You. While I haven't read any of Sepetys' previous books I leaped at the chance to read the first several chapters of her most recent work. Like her other novels, I Must Betray You is a work of historical fiction, but I found the story to be on-the-nose commentary as countries around the world have begun implementing several civilian surveillance measures in response to global events.

"Many things were illegal in Romania, including my thoughts and my notebook."

From the Publisher

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force. Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

Master storyteller Ruta Sepetys is back with a historical thriller that examines the little-known history of a nation defined by silence, pain, and the unwavering conviction of the human spirit.

My First Impression

I Must Betray You is written to appeal to a young-adult audience and it checks all of the boxes. The story centers on a conflicted yet lovable protagonist who is both brave and introspective, a budding teen romance, angst against the powers-that-be, and plenty of quotes just waiting to be scrawled in school notebooks and diaries. Quotes such as:

"What if the internal landscape was ours to build and paint?"
"Concrete walls give birth to concrete faces."
"I was alone ... in a private wrapper of darkness

And my personal favorite:

"Definitely bribe the dentist."

However, the stakes in this story are much higher than your typical teen drama that might revolve around vampires, demigods, or cancer. The main character is pitted between his developing morality and the totalitarian state in which he lives in. He becomes embroiled in the secret police network that intimidates and controls the citizens of Romania. Because of this, the young man must grapple with tough questions that many adults never face their whole life: Is it right to lie if it benefits my family? Can I hurt others if it protects myself? Can I hurt the one's I love?

The book reads well, and brings in enough geo-political history of the time that I'm sure readers at the older end of the young-adult spectrum will stay interested. It also carries a message or a warning to western readers that may be facing increased sanctions, restrictions and surveillance in their communities. It will take time and the rest of the book in order to know just how grave the author's motives are, but thirty pages is enough for the reader to understand that- with the right coercion- nefarious spies can be made from anyone.

Doom and gloom aside, there are plenty of lighter moments to keep the story vibrant. Humor is often used to add humanity to the characters. And the protagonist is quick witted since:

"In a country with no freedom of speech, each joke [feels] like a tiny revolution"

I Must Betray You has great potential and will likely be one of next year's biggest sellers. The novel is due to be released February 1, 2022. You can pre-order your copy at a locally owned bookseller or at is an alternative to Amazon with a mission to financially support independent book stores.

Corey D. Evans received an advance excerpt of this book and was not financially compensated for his review. All quotes are from an unedited advance reader copy of the book and may differ from what will appear in final printed editions.

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