I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

I Must Betray You


GoodreadsI Must Betray You
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Official Summary

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 Ceaușescu 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?

Star Divider


I Must Betray You is a heart-wrenching look at life under a communist regime, where free thought is forbidden and everyone could a traitor. Cristian is a Romanian teenager who has grown up fearing to speak aloud even in his own home, which could be bugged by the government, and knowing that even his closest friends could report him to the police for breaking the rules. Still, he finds brief moments of freedom when he dares to write down his real thoughts in a hidden notebook; the government might control his life, but they cannot control his mind, or limit his creativity. I Must Betray You celebrates the resilience of the human spirit to seek for truth against the odds.

Though set in 1989, I Must Betray You feels eerily topical. As a teenager, Cristian has grown up knowing little else than poverty and fear. He and his fellow Romanians know the truth of what it is like to live under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. It is waiting in line for food one might not even get. It is knowing the electric and the water will go out. It is undergoing physical examinations so the state can see who is getting pregnant for the “good of the nation.” It is knowing that one does not have a choice in one’s own life. But still, Cristian hopes that the world knows about Romania’s plight. He dreams that the world might take action. He spends each day wondering if anyone really cares about what is happening.

Ultimately, however, Cristian does not need to wait for someone else to save him. When Romania finally fights back, Cristian finds in herself depths he did not know were there, and he stands with the revolutionaries. By focusing on Cristian’s journey, from a teen doing what he needs to do in order to survive, to a young man willing to risk everything for freedom, Ruta Sepetys’ story offers hope. Change is something that comes from within. Change is something even an “ordinary” person can start.

I Must Betray You is a moving testimony to the power of words–to destroy, to contain, and to oppress. But also to nourish and empower. It is through words that Cristian, at first, simply survives–survives by reminding himself that he is a person, an individual, a dreamer, and a thinker. But it is also through words that Cristian at last shouts his truth to the world. And it is through words that Cristian shapes a new history for his country by sharing his memories and asking others to do the same. I Must Betray You is a hard book to read, but it is also an important one. It is a book that asks readers to listen to the stories of the suffering–and then to act.

4 stars

13 thoughts on “I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

  1. R. E. Chrysta says:

    I’ll be honest, the title didn’t interest me. Reminds me of a twisted, horror concept on betrayal (as unusual as that may sound), but an adolescent/young man living in such a horrible regime has definitely piqued my interest! Will check if my libraries have it in some format. Thank you for another excellent review Krysta!


    • Krysta says:

      I remember thinking that the title was, erm, interesting, and wondering why it was chosen. Full sentences aren’t often book titles, it seems? And I agree: it’s not really clear what kind of book this is from the title alone.

      Liked by 1 person

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