Wow, thrillers and mysteries, and books, oh, my! Remember back in the day, when we all complained there weren't very MANY of these for YA readers? And we were all really hyperfocused on the few that existed? It looks like the field's really opening up, and thus far, 2014 is shaping up to share some unique voices with the genre.
I'm not a huge fan of modern-historical YA, but this one works as an alternate history historical. In the tradition of DANCER, DAUGHTER, TRAITOR, SPY, by Elizabeth Kiem, it's set in Russia during Cold War times. In a new twist and in an alternate history, however, the novel contains SpecFic elements, too. The tagline on the book cover says it all "An Empty Mind is a Safe Mind." Really, a KGB-run Russia, you'd think would be bad enough, but no. Here, even your brain is under suspicion...
The author fascination with Russia serves her well in this novel, and the research into time and place shows. There's a small romantic triangle in this novel which was a little surprising to me -- I didn't entirely feel like it was necessary, but I know that a lot of people LOVE romance in anything, and can imagine it, even in the midst of oppression by the KGB. I couldn't, but the subtle romantic elements didn't detract from my appreciation of the storyline. While this review contains no specific spoilers, telling you just about anything is giving you more than you need - the book is a thriller, after all! WARNING: The cliffhanger ending of this first novel will be hard for some to take - sorry in advance! - but this will encourage you all the more to pick up that next book, SKANDAL already slated for a 2015 Spring release. And now, on with the book talk.
Concerning Character: Yulia is doing all she can to help her mother and her autistic brother get by. Her father was smuggled from the country, but until the rest of them can find a way out, they do what they can. Yulia walks with her brother through the streets of the village, letting him whistle, tap, and make all the noises he needs to -- there's no way to ask an autistic child to be quiet and hide all day. He needs all the help he can get.
Beneath the thumb of the State, there's no help for those who need more time, more routine -- and more drugs. The State's concerns are a crushing load, and all Yulia and her family can do is bear that load, along with everyone else. Lines for food and medicines and clothes stretch out - days long - and who has that kind of time? And yet, what other options are there?
Yulia's life wasn't always this way. They were once wealthy. Her parents were doctors - and her mother still feels strongly about her oath to help those and harm none. Black market medicines are what's needed, and Yulia has an uncanny ability to make the best trades in the market, to make the best connections to get what's needed. Except, one day, it all comes crashing down. Someone knows how Yulia makes those deals. Someone... in the KGB.
With her mother incarcerated, brainwashed, and forced to work, her brother placed in a mental hospital - which is terrifying - Yulia is naked. She can't even protect her mind from the others in the house, who pick through her thoughts at random, answer questions she hasn't asked, and expose her inner heart to mockery at best, or at worst, reporting to the hard-faced woman who is in charge of their unit. There are some positives - Sergei is comforting and friendly, though a staunch loyalist to the KGB. Valentin - Valya - is moody and intense and frightening, but his silent voice in her mind encourages her to rebel. A good citizen of the State, Yulia is expected to cooperate - but she can't. She hasn't lived by her wits for the last few years to go down like this! Stubborn and recalcitrant, she is hurt and her family threatened before she at last is forced to give in to what her comrades at the Psychic Program want. No matter how far she forces it down, though, through her mind whispers the voice of freedom. She's not going to be locked into a stone building forever. She's not going to be separated from her mother and brother forever. She's going to get OUT.
Everybody wants to escape. But, can anyone do it?
FTC: this book was a review copy courtesy of Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children’s Books and NetGalley. No payment or bribes were exchanged for the review.
After April 1, you can find SEKRET by Lindsay Smith online, or at an independent bookstore near you!