About the Book

Title: I Must Betray You
Published: 2022
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Between Shades of Gray
BFF Charm: Let Me Love You
Talky Talk:A Light in the Dark
Bonus Factors: History Lesson
Relationship Status: Not My Type (In a Good Way)

Cover Story: Between Shades of Gray

Get it? It’s a Ruta Sepetys reference! *jazz hands* But seriously, this cover is so fitting for the story because Communist Romania just seems….gray. CeauČ™escu and his regime have sucked all of the color out of Cristian’s world. The Romanian flag being the only pop of color is meaningful on SO many levels. So while this book may not stand out all bright and colorful on the bookstore shelves, its cover design is thoughtfully done.

The Deal:

It’s 1989 and communist regimes are falling across Europe. But not in Romania – never in Romania. Cristian Florescu has lived his entire 17 years of life under the tyrannical rule of communist dictator, Nicolae CeauČ™escu. He shares a cramped, sparsely furnished apartment with his parents, sister, and beloved grandfather, Bunu.

When Cristian is brought in and asked to work as an informant for the secret police, he wants to tell them to go &^%# themselves. But if refuses their demands, they will withhold Bunu’s much needed medication, and Cristian’s refusal to work with the police could land his entire family in prison. With no choice but to concede, Cristian strikes up a “friendship” with the son of an American diplomat in order to report knowledge back to the same tyrannical regime that has made his life hell. But seeing other communist regimes fall across Europe keeps a tiny spark of hope alive inside Cristian, and he continually finds ways to undermine his oppressors as tensions build and people start demanding change.

BFF Charm: Let Me Love You

BFF charm with teary eyes hugging a heart

Cristian has been oppressed his entire life, and while he has had to be tough to survive, he hasn’t let it completely harden him. It’s the little things that bring him joy – tasting a Coke for the first time, splitting a forbidden Twinkie with his crush, or presenting her with an article about her favorite musician torn from a magazine – and yet all of these seemingly small joys are illegal in communist Romania. He never gives up, and he fights for what he believes in, using his talents as a writer to try to push back against the system.

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cristian has always had a crush on Liliana, who lives in the building next door. His feelings for her are a sort of catalyst for action in the book, which means there isn’t much room for the ~build up~ which is my favorite part of swoon. Besides, there are way more important things going on here anyway!

Talky Talk: A Light in the Dark

Sepetys is really good at taking historical events and reframing them in a way that makes the reader feel like they’re living through it. Her writing here feels hauntingly desolate. It’s simple and straightforward, stripped of any flourishes – just like Cristian’s life in Romania. The book itself is a quick read with short, quickly-paced chapters, and includes reports from the military officials who are using Cristian as a spy. At the back of the book, Sepetys includes photographs from the time period of some of the people and items mentioned in the book, and her author’s note includes her personal connection to the story.

Bonus Factor: History Lesson

paper in a typewriter with the word HISTORY typed

While this is a work of fiction, Sepetys uses the real backdrop of Communist Romania in 1989 as its setting. My knowledge of the Socialist Republic of Romania is vague at best, so it was really cool to learn more about it through the lens of great storytelling.

Relationship Status: Not My Type (In a Good Way)

Book, I’ll admit you aren’t what I usually go for. You’re a bit dark and moody, but maybe I didn’t know I needed you until I had you. I loved our time together and feel like you taught me things I didn’t know. You may not have been my type before, but maybe you are now.

Literary Matchmaking

The Lady Rogue

For a more beautiful Romanian setting, check out Jenn Bennett’s The Lady Rogue.

Salt to the Sea

If you’re looking for more YA based on real historical events, check out Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home

For more books about events in the 1980s – specifically the AIDs epidemic – check out Carol Rifka Brunt’s Tell The Wolves I’m Home.

FTC Full Disclosure: I did not receive money or Girl Scout cookies of any kind (not even the gross cranberry ones) for writing this review. I Must Betray You is available now.

Rosemary lives in Little Rock, AR with her husband and cocker spaniel. At 16, she plucked a copy of Sloppy Firsts off the "New Releases" shelf and hasn't stopped reading YA since. She is a brand designer who loves tiki drinks, her mid-century modern house, and obsessive Google mapping.