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I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Young adult

I Must Betray You

by Ruta Sepetys

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Under the harsh rule of a dictator, a young man must choose between betraying his loved ones or risking his own life.

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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 Ceausescu 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?

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I Must Betray You



They lived in darkness.

Breathing shadows.

Hands plunged deep within their pockets, hiding frozen fingers balled into fists.

They avoided the eyes of others. To look into the face of fear brought risk of getting trapped in its undertow. But somehow—invisible eyes—they were forever upon them. Even in the darkest darkness.


Always watching.

Romania's perpetual sense of surveillance.

That’s how it’s been described: the burden of a secret storm.

This is not recited from memory.

There was a student, a young man in the capital city of Bucharest. He wrote it all down.

Then feared it was a mistake.

We speak of mistakes—some believe that Dracula is the most frightening character associated with Romania. When they learn the truth, will it haunt them?

Dracula is fiction, with no real connection to Romanian history. But there was once a real bloodthirsty monster living in a castle in Romania. He remained in his tower for twenty-four years. While Dracula chose specific victims, this other monster chose to be evil and cruel . . .

To everyone.

He denied them food, electricity, truth, and freedom.

The citizens of Romania were stoic and resilient, but they suffered a terror of tyranny.

How many, you ask?

Twenty-three million people.

Names and history, largely unknown. Then—

A metal box. Found next to a grave. Inside was a manuscript.

This is how one boy told the story.

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Why I love it

Ruta Sepetys’s new historical thriller I Must Betray You is an atmospheric, beautifully written story set as the 1989 Romanian Revolution fast approaches. The novel is filled with unforgettable characters who convey varying aspects of the suffering and abuse of civil liberties by the communist government led by Nicolae Ceausescu. But no character is as thoroughly engrossing as Cristian Florescu. The high school student is an adventuresome young man who dabbles in such illegal activities as watching smuggled American movies, writing in his journals, hoarding Kent cigarettes, and sharing a can of Coca-Cola. But when he gets recruited to spy on a U.S. diplomat’s son—his mother cleans the apartments of two U.S. diplomats—he is also given a chance to prove himself resourceful, flawed, and heroic.

Sepetys’s novel is historical fiction at its best. Meticulously researched, it is also wonderfully paced storytelling. The author weaves history into an emotional tale that merges genres, from coming-of-age to thriller and action-adventure seamlessly led by Cristian. His observations, intellect, and disarming humor, as well as his heartwarming affection for his family, friends, and partners, make his difficult choice at the center of the story even more gut-wrenching.

I Must Betray You will leave you breathless until the very last sentence.

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Member ratings (3,290)

  • Amanda B.

    Hollywood, MD

    Hands down one of the best books I’ve ever read! I couldn’t put it down. It’s made me thirsty for more history on Eastern Europe and communism. I love fiction books that actually teach you something.

  • Catherine M.

    APO, AE

    Not as intense as Salt to the Sea or as long as Fountains of Silence, but still very enlightening about a totalitarian regime I didn’t know much about. RS’s stories always prompt me to research more.

  • Kristen K.

    Gibsonia, PA

    This was an absolutely amazing story. I was so invested in the characters, and it was great to learn about a piece of history that wasn’t so long ago and doesn’t get written in the mainstream as often

  • Connor S.

    Brooklyn, NY

    I guess I’m a fan of Sepetys’ writing because here I am reviewing another one of her novels! IMBY was incredibly well-researched and shines a light on the recent history of Romania. Nice to see Nick!

  • Elisabeth A.

    Baltimore, MD

    Wow, blown away by this one! Truly made me think about what that era must’ve been like in Eastern Europe. I learned a lot from this and would absolutely recommend to fellow historical fiction readers.

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