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 spys on a local American diplomat. Suddenly, Cristian faces a dilemma: to protect his grandfather, he must become what he and his grandfather hate: an informant. But, as Cristian soon learns, making deals with the Securitate is never easy, and to complicate matters, a revolution is brewing behind the scenes.
Sepetys is an author known for mining history to create captivating novels for young readers. Her first book, “Between Shades of Grey,” about a Lithuanian girl deported to a Siberian labor camp during Stalin’s dictatorship, was a New York Times bestseller. Later historical accounts followed, including “The Fountain of Silence”, which explored Spain in 1957 under Francisco Franco, and “Salt in the Sea”, about the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff at the end of World War II. With “I Must Betray You”, his sixth book if you include the graphic novel adaptation of “Between Shades of Grey”, Sepetys trades his meditative tone for the suspense of a spy drama. The tension is heightened because, even as Cristian is pressured to become an informant, he is also being watched himself. Between chapters, Sepetys adds reports from the Securitate to show that nothing Cristian does ever escapes the eye of the state.
The challenges Cristian faces are so extreme and unsettling that it’s easy to forget they’re based on real, recent history. But Sepetys deftly mixes historical details into the story and shares archival photos at the end of the book, creating a tale that’s as educational as it is thrilling. When you think the story is going to zigzag, it zigzags and makes 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 make you experience them too.
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 the ideas of surveillance and authoritarianism and creates a dystopian world that bears an uncanny resemblance to the real-life struggles of Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu.
“Blue Bird,” by Sharon Cameron – Similar to “I Must Betray You,” Cameron’s “Bluebird” is a YA historical novel about a teenager dealing with the legacy of a dictatorship. In this case, the story focuses on the aftermath of World War II and explores “Project Bluebird”, a CIA program to find the Nazi doctors behind the mind control experiments carried out in concentration camps and to extend these efforts to the United States.