cover image I Must Betray You

I Must Betray You

Ruta Sepetys. Philomel, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-9848-3603-8

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. (Feb.)