Review: New Ruta Sepetys Book Yet Another Classic

Book executes concept with relatable characters resisting authoritarianism

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Photo by Matteo Winandy

Junior C.C. Huthnance reads Ruta Sepetys’ book “I Must Betray You” in the library. I Must Betray You is Sepetys’ most recent release and was announced back in October. “I Must Betray You” captivates its audience by through worldbuilding and strong relationships between characters.

I first found out about “I Must Betray You” by Ruta Sepetys in October on her Instagram, before it had been released. 

Sepetys is an accomplished author, with multiple award-winning books like “Between Shades of Gray,” “Salt to the Sea” and “The Fountains of Silence” of which two were optioned for film adaptations. 

Her novels are historically-dense and viewed through the perspectives of teenagers. So when I read the synopsis of her new book, a historical fiction about Cristian Florescu, a boy trapped in a horrifying dictatorship under former Romanian president Nicolae Ceaușescu, I was immediately compelled to order her book.

From the very beginning of the book, Sepetys builds tension. 

A Romanian official, known as Agent Paddle Hands, calls Florescu aside, he says “I know what you’ve done,” which hooked me into the story because the reader is not told what Florescu did, leading us to speculate.

The agent pressures Florescu to inform the government on Dan Van Dorn, an American teenager. In exchange, Florescu receives medicine for his grandfather dying of leukemia, a form of cancer. 

Another unique asset for this book is how deftly the author paints a picture of what communist Romania looked like for its people. 

In the fifth chapter, Sepetys described the burden of living in Romania at the time. The government controls their electricity usage, the running water, and bleeds them dry of all of their money.

Van Dorn serves as a mental escape for Florescu as Dan teaches him American slang such as “pal” and introduces him to the Dallas Cowboys. 

Throughout the story, Sepetys references the culture of the U.S. as an escape for the Romanian people. A minor character, known as Starfish, gains access to American movies and hosts secret “movie nights” for Romanian kids.

Multiple character development side plots involving Florescu enriched the overall story. For instance, the relationship between Florescu and Liliana Pavel, a quiet, shy girl who he has a crush on serves as an emotional break from the collapsing Romanian country. It also serves the concept of “kids being kids” regardless of outside factors, which is relatable to the book’s young readers.

Another character side plot is the “sibling language” that Florescu and his older sister Cici have. The relationship between the siblings demonstrates the pair’s strength in the face of adversity and adds interest to Florescu’s character.

One last relationship Florescu has is a mentor-novice type-relationship, with his grandfather, Bunu. Bunu isn’t scared of anything that is happening in communist Romania and tells Florescu to keep fighting, despite the hardships.

 With compelling relationships between characters and well-researched world-building, I Must Betray You is a captivating book that is able to hook you in.