YA – I Must Betray You

Sepetys, Ruta. I Must Betray You. Philomel Books, 2022. 978-1-984-83603-8. 320 p. $18.99. Grades 7-12.

Romania, 1989. Seventeen-year-old high school student, Cristian Florescu, gets blackmailed into informing on the American family his mother cleans for. In exchange for spying on the Van Dorns, he will receive much-needed medicine for his beloved Bunu–grandfather–who has been diagnosed with leukemia and lives with Cristian, his older sister, Cici, and his parents in a cramped, one- bedroom apartment in Bucharest. Tormented by guilt for betraying the trust of his loved ones, Cristian records his feelings in his notebook, an exercise that serves well his aspiration to be a writer. Informers and reporters ooze out of the dank, grey apartment buildings like the cockroaches that live within the dim hallways. Urged or manipulated by the regime instituted by their country’s leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, even these informers are being informed on. Furthermore, Cristian is driven to suspect the integrity of his own family members. He quickly realizes the desperation of his situation, especially after his informer status affects the budding romance with his classmate, Lilianna Pavel, and almost ruins his friendship with the kind, gentle Luca Oprea. He resolves to follow his orders to get close to Dan Van Dorn, the American diplomat’s son, while recording the grim daily existence of living under Ceaușescu’s dictatorship. When life turns even more tragic for Cristian, the dissolution of the Soviet bloc becomes a reality, and the citizens of Romania, led by the university students and the young, bravely take their stand. Author Ruta Septys is at her best with this suspenseful recounting of lives lived under extreme oppression: punishment for owning anything from the Western world, endless lines to obtain necessities, limited use of utilities, and constant surveillance of one’s every movement and word. This well-researched and engaging work is an eye opener, not only about an existence under Communism, but the political ploys that supported Ceaușescu’s power.

THOUGHTS: This story is riveting! In the eyes of many heads of state during his thirty-year reign, Nicolae Ceausecu was an improvement over the other Communist leaders. In truth, the Romanian people were suffering great hardships, both physical and mental. Cristian’s compliance in being an informer in exchange for medication forms an ethical dilemma. Moreover, his perspective on our American way of life emphasizes our freedoms that may be taken for granted. Besides the obvious history lesson, I Will Betray You, addresses values, self-identity, and matters of conscience.

Historical Fiction          Bernadette Cooke  School District of Philadelphia

Cristian Florescu is a 17 year old Romanian boy, and life certainly isn’t easy.  When he is blackmailed into being an informant for the government, he has no choice but to accept. His goal is to gain the trust of the son of the American ambassador so that he can report any suspicious activity from within their home. Through this new friendship, Cristian begins to realize how different his life in Romania is from the rest of the world. Like others in his country, he wants to expose Romanian life to the rest of the world, but when friends and family could be spies as well, it’s not safe for Cristian to even speak of such things. Will he find the strength to join the revolution, or is there too much at stake, including his life?

THOUGHTS:  I Must Betray You is a historical fiction account of Romanian life in the late 1980s under the rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Until reading this book, I had never heard the name Nicolae Ceaușescu. After reading this book, I did my own research into the communist rule in Romania and discovered how oppressive life truly was. I was horrified, and at times, I felt as if I was reading a WWII historical fiction novel rather than one set in 1989. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially since it shines light on a time in history that may not be as familiar with readers. 

Historical Fiction          Emily Hoffman, Conestoga Valley SD

YA Realistic Fiction…Every Last Promise; The Start of You and Me; Charlie, Presumed Dead

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Halbrook, Kristin. Every Last Promise. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-06212128-8. 272p. $9.99. Gr. 9-12.

“Killer Kayla”–it’s the whisper Kayla hears in the school hallway and on the streets of her small hometown of Winbrooke, MO. Home after a summer of exile in Kansas City, Kayla is dealing with the aftermath of a spring car wreck in which she was at the the wheel, leaving her best friend’s twin brother injured and another classmate killed. But while everyone blames Kayla, they don’t know the real reason she was in the driver’s seat that night.  Kayla has claimed she can’t remember the details surrounding the accident, but that’s not the truth.  The truth is that Kayla witnessed one of her friends being sexually assaulted at a party shortly before the car crash.  Now Kayla finds herself torn; should she reveal the truth about the crash and the assault? Doing so (and naming the perpetrator, the start football quarterback, who also happens to be her friend’s twin brother who was injured in the car crash) will further ostracize her from the beloved hometown where she had imagined herself living forever.  Can she live with herself if she continues to remain silent?  THOUGHTS:  Halbrook effectively uses alternating chapters (set during the spring prior to the car crash and the autumn following the crash) to build tension and suspense that keeps the reader engaged until the actual events surrounding the car crash are revealed.  The effects of peer/community pressure are also realistically portrayed as Kayla struggles with the pressure put on her by friends, classmates and others to keep silent.

Realistic Fiction   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

 

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Lord, Emery. The Start of You and Me. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015. 978-1-61963-359-9. 373p. $17.99. Gr. 8-12.

For the past year, Paige Hancock’s life has been defined by one event–the drowning death of her first boyfriend, Aaron. Seemingly everywhere she goes, she is the focus of pitying looks from her friends and neighbors. She feels guilty when she has a good time.  As her junior year gets underway, Paige is resolved to move on and make some changes in her life.  On her to-do list are things like joining a club at school and dating again; maybe her former crush Ryan Chase is available.  When Paige joins the high school quiz bowl team, however, it’s Ryan’s cousin Max she finds herself connecting with and falling for.  Paige must break through her fear of loss in order to enter into a relationship and begin living again.  THOUGHTS: This sensitive portrayal of life, love and loss will appeal to readers of Sarah Dessen, Morgan Matson, Deb Caletti and Susane Colasanti.

Realistic Fiction   Elizabeth Henry, Lampeter-Strasburg HS/MS

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Heltzel, Anne. Charlie, Presumed Dead. New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015. Print. 978-0544388499. 272 p. $17.99. Gr. 9 and up.

While not the best book I read over the summer, this title is sure to engage students who appreciate a fast-paced read with a mysterious element. Presumably, Charlie Price has died in an explosion while piloting a plane. Upon attending the funeral of her boyfriend in Paris, American, Aubrey Boroughs realizes that not only did Charlie not tell his family about her, but he had a steady girlfriend of three years, Lena Whitney. Lena and Aubrey meet, and Lena shares her suspicions that Charlie is not actually dead. Aubrey is intrigued (why so intrigued, we learn later on), and reluctantly agrees to go with Lena on a trip to various locations to find out more about Charlie’s supposed “death.” They end up flying halfway around the world to India to begin their quest. As they come closer and closer to solving the mystery, they learn about each other as well as their own wants and needs. They both had a complicated relationship with the enigmatic young Charlie, who seems to have enjoyed being a different person around each girl. Against all reason, the girls themselves become close throughout the course of their adventure. Reminiscent of Gayle Forman’s novel Just One Day, this novel takes readers on an adventure to exotic locales but lacks the depth and character development that Forman includes so easily in her stories. Nevertheless, readers will still want to learn what happened to Charlie, and will eagerly await the sequel.

Realistic Fiction, Mystery   Lindsey Myers, Shady Side Academy Senior School

Against my better judgement, I did find myself quickly turning the pages in this book. The characters are interesting, and the plot is one that keeps the reader on the edge of her seat the entire time. Similar to other YA novels, this one lacks any sort of adult presence, and an adult reader such as myself had to have a lot of willing suspension of disbelief to believe that any parent would let their 18 year old daughter go on weekend vacations with a boy such as Aubrey did, or allow a daughter to travel around the world as she pleases, as Lena’s parents are wont to do. Yet, this was a fun read, and I will be recommending it to many students who enjoy mysteries!