by Lindsay Smith
Read: January 13 - 16, 2014
Published: April 1, 2014 by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children's
Source: ARC from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Category: Historical fantasy, Russia, YA
Series: Sekret book 1
Find: Goodreads | Amazon
From debut author Lindsay Smith comes an espionage thriller with a dash of both history and dystopia.
Yulia’s father always taught her that an empty mind is a safe mind. She has to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia, especially because she seems to be able to read the minds of the people she touches. When she’s captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she’s thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power where she can trust no one.
She certainly can’t trust Rostov, the cruel KGB operative running the psychic program. Or handsome Sergei who encourages her to cooperate with the KGB. Or brooding Valentin who tells her to rebel against them. And not the CIA, who have a psychic so powerful he can erase a person’s mind with his own thoughts. Yulia quickly learns she must rely on her own wits and power to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.
Yulia has spent the past few years in hiding with her mom and brother. Formerly influential scientists for the Soviet Union, Yulia's parents were able to escape the party's control, though not without fracturing. Her father has been missing since they ran. Now Yulia and her remaining family members live a life of fugitives, always on the look out for the KGB or anyone willing (or desperate enough) to turn them in. So far Yulia's family has been successful at staying hidden, partially with the help of her secret ability. Yulia can read thoughts and memories when she touches other people and objects. She doesn't know where this talent came from, and it scares her a little, but she's thankful for it too.
Although Yulia has not told anyone about what she can do, she discovers one day that her family and her talents aren't as hidden as she'd thought. Arriving home from a visit to the black market, Yulia discovers her mother and brother missing and KGB operatives waiting for her. Holding the threat of ever seeing her family again against her, the government forces Yulia into a psychic spy program where she meets other teens and adults with a variety of psychic abilities, some of which are far more frightening than her own.
Sekret hooked me in with its gritty, early 60s Cold War Soviet Russian setting, and also the hint of fantasy that made this world and the realities of these characters lives even more intense and dangerous. I think historical novels with some paranormal elements thrown in is my new favorite genre. Especially when they are well researched and set in a background of true world events, both of which Sekret does well.
While reading Sekret I had the constant feeling of being caught it a web. Although this doesn't sound pleasant, it definitely made for a deliciously intense reading experience, and is one of the reasons I enjoyed this story so much. Yulia doesn't know who she can trust. Her plans get thwarted, and it's hard to escape or keep your thoughts secret when all the people around you can read your mind and anticipate your moves. Even though I figured out some elements in advance, I was still on the edge of my seat as the story played out.
Despite the harshness of Yulia's world, two underlying plot elements enchanted me throughout this story. The first is music. The way these characters use music to protect themselves, the way music teaches Yulia about the world outside of Russia and gives her hope, and the way music connects Yulia to her brother and other characters, all are beautifully written into this book.
The second element is the romance. Although two boys are interested in Yulia I would not call this a love triangle, as Yulia's affections only build in one direction. The tension in the book is also obvious and strong from the beginning between her and her love interest. I like when it is obvious which way a love story goes, so this was a plus for me. The romance is not the focus of the story, but it is a great addition. Also, there is a scene in this book that combines kissing, music and hope that is aching and absolutely breathtaking.
Love Triangle Factor: None
Cliffhanger Scale: Low - definitely more story to come. But no immediate danger.