Recommended: yes, it’s Ruta
For Ruta’s trademark history that’s ignored by American schools (mine at least…), for a story of true events told in one possible existing story, for revolution and oppression and determination and risk, for a bite-history of Romania’s not-so-distant past of becoming their own country again
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?
As are all of Ruta’s young adult historical novels, this is very thoroughly researched in many different ways, from conversations with people who lived during the time to artifacts from it to written works about it and so much more. It really shows in the details of the story how Ruta learned about Romanian’s lives. After finishing reading this, I really appreciated the notes at the back with details about references within the book. I was so curious about the woman who dubbed so many western films, and found a name to start my own research into her some more.
Even though the Romanian revolution was violent and the rampant fear and tension is evident, the story itself is not too painful. The hardest parts for me to read were when characters discussed the awful things done in the prisons, which would definitely need some sensitivity if reading this book in a classroom. Still, the story carries on forward, and just like life won’t stop for horror in one’s own life, neither does the story. To be honest, it was almost a bit strange that this book wasn’t harder to read considering it’s topic. The gravitas felt somewhat limited at times, and while that made it a less taxing read, the feeling of the situation is critical for me.
Much like Cristian, I had no idea who to trust. At times I was so overwhelmed that I thought wildly, WHAT IF EVERYONE IS A SPY! so I cannot even begin to think of how it felt to live in that time. I absolutely would have been the boy revealing his secrets in the classroom under stress. The atmosphere of the book is captured perfectly.
There’s also a very quick pace to this book. Cristian is made an informer by probably page 5, so there’s really not much waiting around for tension or mystery or suspense. As I somewhat mentioned earlier, the speed helps mitigate the pain of remembering that though this precise story is invented, the details really are not. This all happened, and so much more. For me, the reflection after the story is where I really set in to my emotions while thinking about all I’d learned.
One strange disconnect I had was that the narrator, Cristian, is seventeen years old. At no point in the story did I feel like he was seventeen; I usually had him in my mind as probably 14 or 15. There could be a few reasons for this, and ultimately none of them particularly matter since it didn’t especially skew my reading of the story. There were a few moments where his immaturity seemed like an early teen instead of an almost-technically-adult, but people are stupid no matter what, right? He might have felt so young because I’m getting farther away from 17 every day. Maybe it’s because in his lifetime, there was so much that he had never experienced, like eating fruit: so yes, of course he’s going to seem young and inexperienced to me, an avid eater of kiwis.
If you’ve read any of Ruta Sepetys’ other works, you’ll find that this is very much in the same vein as her historical YA. And if you haven’t yet, you’re in for a nice discover.
Thank you to Bookishfirst for a free advanced copy. This is my honest review!