I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Ruta Sepetys is renowned for casting a humanitarian lens on real stories of human tragedy, giving voice to those whose stories may otherwise be lost in the cracks of history. Sepetys was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Salt to the Sea and was praised for raising awareness about a lesser-known maritime disaster: a civilian ocean liner targeted by enemy fire during the Second World War resulting in the loss of 9600 lives. Her latest book, I Must Betray You, is set in Romania during the communist rule of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu and brings an informed socio-political scrutiny to this brutal and oppressive regime that lasted close to 30 years.
As a reader, I was fascinated by the subject matter and valued learning about life under the regime for the Romanian people. The 17-year-old protagonist, Cristian, aspires to become a writer and trades in contraband to source news of the outside world. He also takes great risks to document his dissident thoughts and observations in a private notebook; ideas he entrusts only to his grandfather. When Cristian is betrayed by an unknown informer, he is in turn forced by the secret police to inform on those around him, under the threat that life-saving medicines would be withheld from his grandfather should Cristian not comply. Cristian’s minder instructs him to befriend the son of an American diplomat, but in a dangerous game of duplicity, Cristian is both informer and freedom writer and exploits this connection to smuggle information to the outside world about the oppressive reality of life under the regime.
This is an inspiring story about the struggle for truth in a world obscured by lies, and where trust between people is compromised by a vast network of civilian informers. As news emerges of the collapse of communism in neighbouring countries, the Romanian people take courage and risk everything to bring about a revolution. I Must Betray You is enthralling historical young adult fiction for mature readers ages 13+.