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I Must Betray You
Cover of I Must Betray You
I Must Betray You
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A #1 New York Times and National Bestseller! A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York...
A #1 New York Times and National Bestseller! A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York...
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  • A #1 New York Times and National Bestseller!
    A gut-wrenching, startling historical thriller about communist Romania and the citizen spy network that devastated a nation, from the #1 New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray.
    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.
    Praise for I Must Betray You:
    “As educational as it is thrilling...[T]he power of I Must Betray You [is] it doesn’t just describe the destabilizing effects of being spied on; it will make you experience them too.” New York Times Book Review
    “A historical heart-pounder…Ms. Sepetys, across her body of work, has become a tribune of the unsung historical moment and a humane voice of moral clarity.”The Wall Street Journal
    * "Sepetys brilliantly blends a staggering amount of research with heart, craft, and insight in a way very few writers can. Compulsively readable and brilliant." Kirkus Reviews, starred review
    * "Sepetys once again masterfully portrays a dark, forgotten corner of history." Booklist, starred review
    * "Sepetys’s latest book maintains the caliber readers have come to expect from an author whose focus on hidden histories has made her a YA powerhouse of historical ­fiction…Sepetys is a formidable writer, and her stories declare the need to write about global issues of social injustice. For that reason and her attention to detail, this is a must-read." School Library Journal, starred review
    * "Cristian’s tense first-person narrative foregrounds stark historical realities, unflinchingly confronting deprivations and cruelty while balancing them with perseverance and hope as Romania hurtles toward political change." Publishers Weekly, starred review
    “Sepetys keeps readers riveted to this vivid, heartbreaking and compelling novel, locked into every meticulously researched detail. I Must Betray You demands a full investment from its audience—through poetic writing, sympathetic characters, revolutionary plot and pacing, it grips the heart and soul and leaves one breathless.”Shelf Awareness, starred review
    "A master class in pacing and atmosphere." BookPage



  • From the cover



    Fear arrived at five o’clock.

    It was October. A gray Friday.

    If I had known? I would have run. Tried to hide.

    But I didn’t know.

    Through the dim half-­light of the school corridor I spotted my best friend, Luca. He walked toward me, passing the tedious sign shouting from the concrete wall.

    New Men of Romania:

    Long live Communism—­the bright future of mankind!

    At the time, my mind churned on something far from communism. Something more immediate.

    School dismissed at 7:00 p.m. If I left at the right moment, I’d fall into step with her—­the quiet girl with the hair hiding her eyes. It would feel coincidental, not forced.

    Luca’s tall, thin frame edged in beside me. “It’s official. My stomach’s eating itself.”

    “Here.” I handed him my small pouch of sunflower seeds.

    “Thanks. Did you hear? The librarian says you’re a bad influence.”

    I laughed. Maybe it was true. Teachers referred to Luca as “sweet” but said I was sarcastic. If I was the type to throw a punch, Luca was the type to break up a fight. He had an eagerness about him, while I preferred to evaluate and watch from afar.

    We paused so Luca could talk to a group of loud girls. I waited, impatient.

    Hei, Cristian,” smiled one of the girls. “Nice hair, do you cut it with a kitchen knife?”

    “Yeah,” I said softly. “Blindfolded.” I gave Luca a nod and continued down the hall alone.

    “Pupil Florescu!”

    The voice belonged to the school director. He lingered in the hallway, speaking with a colleague. Comrade Director shifted his weight, trying to appear casual.

    Nothing was ever casual.

    In class, we sat erect. Comrade Instructor lectured, bellowing at our group of forty students. We listened, stock still and squinting beneath the sickly light. We were marked “present” in attendance but were often absent from ourselves.

    Luca and me, we wore navy suits and ties to liceu. All boys did. Girls, navy pinafores and white hair bands. Embroidered badges sewn onto our uniforms identified which school we attended. But in the fall and winter, our school uniforms weren’t visible. They were covered by coats, knitted mufflers, and gloves to combat the bitter cold of the unheated cement building.

    Cold and dark. Knuckles aching. It’s hard to take notes when you can’t feel your fingers. It’s difficult to concentrate when the electricity snaps off.

    The director cleared his throat. “Pupil Florescu,” he repeated. “Proceed to the office. Your father has left a message for you.”

    My father? My father never came to school. I rarely saw him. He worked twelve-­hour shifts, six days a week at a furniture factory.

    A slithering knot coiled inside my stomach. “Yes, Comrade Director.”

    I proceeded to the office as I was told.

    Could outsiders understand? In Romania, we did as we were told.

    We were told a lot of things.

    We were told that we were all brothers and sisters in communism. Addressing each other with the term “comrade” reinforced that we were all equal, with no social classes to divide us. Good brothers and sisters in communism followed rules.

    I pretended to follow rules. I kept things to myself, like my interest in poetry and philosophy. I pretended other things too. I pretended to lose my comb, but really just preferred my hair spiky. I pretended not to notice when girls...


  • Kirkus

    December 1, 2021
    A rare look at the youth-led rebellion that toppled Romania's Ceaușescu. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu, with his spiky hair, love of poetry and English, and crush on Liliana Pavel, is as much of a rebel as it's possible to be in Bucharest, Romania, in 1989. Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu has been in power for 24 years, and most Romanians live in poverty, exporting what they produce to unknowingly fund Ceaușescu's obscenely extravagant lifestyle. Wild dogs attack children in the streets, and secret agents are everywhere. When an agent confronts Cristian with evidence of treason--a single dollar bill tucked inside his notebook--and also offers medicine for Bunu, his sick grandfather, Cristian agrees to spy on the American diplomat family whose son he's become friendly with. But as young Romanians gradually become aware that other countries have gained freedom from communism, they rise up in an unconquerable wave. Sepetys brilliantly blends a staggering amount of research with heart, craft, and insight in a way very few writers can. Told from Cristian's point of view, intercut by secret police memos and Cristian's own poetry, the novel crackles with energy; Cristian and his friends join the groundswell of young Romanians, combining pragmatism, subterfuge, hope, and daring. While the story ends with joy on Christmas Day, the epilogue recounts the betrayals and losses that follow. The last line will leave readers gasping. Compulsively readable and brilliant. (maps, photos, author's note, research notes, sources) (Historical fiction. 12-18)

    COPYRIGHT(2021) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from December 20, 2021
    Sepetys (The Fountains of Silence) unveils the culture of constant surveillance in communist Romania through an ominously suspenseful historical novel set at the brink of revolution. Under the corrupt authoritarian Ceaus’escu’s tenure in 1989 Bucharest, canny aspiring writer Cristian Florescu, 17, keeps his true observations secret as he studies English and jots down illegal thoughts, such as jokes and notes from a contraband travel guide, in a notebook. When an agent of the secret police blackmails him for accepting a dollar of foreign currency from the son of his mother’s U.S. diplomat client, and promises life-saving medication for his grandfather, Cristian is forced to inform on his loved ones. Tensions intensify as the teen suspects everyone close to him for the betrayal that led to his blackmail, including best friend Luca, crush Liliana, and even his own family (all characters cue as white), and wrestles with how to use his new position to resist authority. As the betrayals’ nuances become clear via interspersed intelligence reports, Cristian’s tense first-person narrative foregrounds stark historical realities (families keep an inventory of American cigarettes as black market currency, police ruthlessly beat protesters), unflinchingly confronting deprivations and cruelty while balancing them with perseverance and hope as Romania hurtles toward political change. Back matter includes an author’s note. Ages 12–up. Agent: Steven Malk, Writers House.

  • Booklist

    January 1, 2022
    Grades 8-11 *Starred Review* Sepetys (The Fountains of Silence, 2019) once again masterfully portrays a dark, forgotten corner of history: Bucharest, Romania, winter 1989. For nearly 25 years, Romania's communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Heroine Mother Elena, perpetrated unspeakable human-rights abuses on their people. By focusing on one voice, 17-year-old Cristian Florescu, Sepetys amplifies the isolation, fear, and uncertainty experienced during the final months of Ceaușescu's regime. Cristian shares a tiny apartment with his parents, older sister, Cici, and beloved, rebellious grandfather, Bunu. They speak in whispers and spend hours in line for cooking oil or a single onion. Cristian writes in a journal he hides under the floorboards and dreams of kissing his beautiful classmate, Liliana. When a dollar bill appears in his stamp collection, the secret police use it as leverage to force him to inform on a U.S. diplomat. Cristian's short, almost breathless first-person chapters are interspersed with chilling interview reports by his assigned Securitate agent. Cristian, Liliana, and their friend Luca join the final uprising, from University Square to notorious Jilava prison. The worst tortures take place offstage, but beatings, mental torment, and near starvation do not. Suspenseful twists continue to the very end, when Cristian's betrayer is revealed. The back matter, too, is fascinating; it encompasses archival photographs, an author's note, an extensive source list, and a description of the research process and several in-person interviews.


  • School Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2022

    Gr 9 Up-Sepetys's latest book maintains the caliber readers have come to expect from an author whose focus on hidden histories has made her a YA powerhouse of historical fiction. Cristian is a 17-year-old living in Romania in 1989 with his family in the sterile concrete block housing that Ceausescu's communist state allows, with little to eat and no liberties. When Cristian reluctantly agrees to become an informer to protect his grandfather, nothing is sacred: not his budding relationship with Liliana, not his friendship with Luca, and not his musings about Romania in a notebook that will be a tool to fight back, if he makes that choice. Romania blossoms under Sepetys's attention to detail which comes from personal interviews, archival research, and traveling. These complexities are then infused into the setting and cast of characters whose surveillance means betrayal lurks everywhere, evidenced by the secret reports resourcefully sprinkled into the narrative. Mysterious as it is thrilling, the book's short chapters create an atmosphere of impending danger leading to a historical event in Eastern Europe that may be unknown to many yet is necessary to be told. The impending revolution pressurizes Cristian's next move, reminiscent of Matt Killeen's Orphan Monster Spy that blurs the line of good and evil. VERDICT Sepetys is a formidable writer, and her stories declare the need to write about global issues of social injustice. For that reason and her attention to detail, this is a must-read.-Alicia Abdul

    Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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