Thursday, 20 March 2014

Review: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

Title: Sekret (Sekret #1)
Author: Lindsay Smith
Release date: April 1st 2014
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Publishing
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction/Thriller/Paranormal
Format: eARC
Pages: 352
Source: NetGalley

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.

Sekret is a rich and beautifully-written story filled with suspense, espionage, love, and of course secrets. Set in 1963 Soviet Russia, this is a historical novel and yet that's not the only thing that defines it. There are thriller are paranormal elements woven throughout. Sekret is honestly one of the best books I've read in a long time, and it's even more remarkable as a debut.

Yulia has a secret power that no one but her family knows about. She can read the minds of people she touches, and access the memories of the people who've previously touched an object she touches. Her power definitely comes in handy when trading for goods, but it puts her in danger when she's found by two psychics with powers like hers, but slightly different. Yulia is taken by the psychic unit of the KGB, and is made to work as a spy alongside six other kids her age. Her whole world turns upside down, in so many ways, and through it all, Yulia has to learn to differentiate her enemies from her allies.

What I love most about the historical aspect is that I actually KNOW a lot of this stuff! I spent a good year or so learning about Soviet Russian history in the 9th grade. That was three years ago, but everything is still pretty fresh in my mind. And reading this book just reinforced most of it. It was slightly weird reading about Nikita Khrushchev since he’s obviously one of the Russians we learned a lot about, but I like that Lindsay Smith has clearly done a lot of research for this book. She’s portrayed Communist Russia perfectly, which I think is amazing. The author's note at the end of the book is really important to read, since Lindsay gives us a quick breakdown of the historical facts she used in the novel, and which parts were purely fictional.

Yulia is an amazing protagonist. She's sharp and witty, and very driven. I found no flaws in her at all. She got me rooting for her desperately from start to finish, and I really admire her courage and fortitude. She is thrown into a life so different from what she's always known, and I was astonished to see how quickly she adapts to it. Her intelligence shines through most of her actions, especially the fact that she's careful of whom she trusts. 

You would think in a situation like hers there's no place for romance, but there clearly is, and I loved it. It's sweet and it develops slowly, which is the best part of it. In the beginning it seems like there are two love interests in the book - Sergei and Valentin, but early into the book it's clear who it actually is. I don't mind saying it here, since it's definitely not a spoiler. I loved Valentin! He's the archetypal sensitive guy - he plays the piano 24/7, and is amazing at it. He gets Yulia like no one else does, but his troubled past and dangerous power keeps a constant barrier between him and anyone else. That is, until Yulia breaks through it. I thought they were really sweet together, even though they had too few stolen moments for my liking.

This book focuses on the USA/USSR space race, with intense espionage on both sides. The Cuban Missile Crisis was just two years prior to the events of the book, so the tension between the two countries is still really high. Krushchev is doing whatever he can to maintain peace between the nations, but Rostov, the leader of the KGB psychic program, doesn't agree with him. He wants Stalinist Russia back, and is willing to do anything to get what he desires. The stakes are very high in this novel, and the action scenes had me on the edge of my seat, my eyes glued to the pages. I also loved the music embedded throughout the novel. Music plays a key role in the events of the book, and the varied choice - classical as well as modern British pop - keeps it interesting.

The writing is fantastic, the world-building is perfect, and the characters are incredibly complex and well-developed. Needless to say, I loved everything about this book. And of course I'm dying for the next one already! Sekret is a definite 2014 must-read, regardless of whether you're a history buff or not. There's something in here for everyone!

*Thank you to MacMillan for providing me with an ARC for review*

Rating: 5/5

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