Release Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Children's
An empty mind is a safe mind.
Yulia's father always taught her to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive the harsh realities of Soviet Russia. But 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. Yulia quickly realizes she can trust no one--not her KGB superiors or the other operatives vying for her attention--and must rely on her own wits and skills to survive in this world where no SEKRET can stay hidden for long.(courtesy of Goodreads)
Your opinion on this book is going to vary based on why you're reading it. Are you a Rusophile? This is the book for you. Are you a history buff? This is the book for you. Do you like action packed thrillers? Might be a problem.
Sekret does a fabulous job painting Moscow in the early 1960s. The poverty of many with the luxury of a few. The harsh government. A society where one couldn't trust one's neighbors. It is the Soviet Union trying to crawl out from the horrors of the Stalin era and find its footing with Kruschev. It's a time of history that I'm somewhat familiar with, but not too much. I feel a lot more knowledgeable about it after reading this book. If not for the element of psychics, I'd feel like I was reading a non-fiction spy tale. Even the psychic has a touch of reality - it's something the CIA and probably KGB experimented with, I believe.
Yulia is a resourceful main character. In any other context, she would be brilliant - as she was as a "ration rat," working the black market to feed her family. But in this scenario, she is surrounded by equally intelligent people, so her ability to win based on smarts alone is decreased. She does fall into the YA trope of acting to save her imprisoned mother and disabled brother. This weakens the book somewhat, but the author does manage to fit it into the plot.
Once Yulia is caught by the KGB and recognized as a psychic, she's sent to psychic boarding school. She's paired with other psychic teenagers and their powers are used to catch Russian spies leaking secrets about the Soviet lunar program to the Americans.
The other personalities also fall into tropes. You have the sneaky mean girl. You have the friend. You have the jock who kinda likes you. You have the mysterious boy whom you like and who might like you. The only thing that stands these characters apart from those of other YA novels is that their trustworthiness is always in doubt; at times, they do betray Yulia. It's hard for us to tell if they are more loyal to the KGB or to Yulia. Then there are a few other characters who are there for no apparent reason. On the whole, I thought the flat characterization of the side characters was the weakest part of this story. Several characters she didn't even bother to develop. The more significant side characters like Valentin and Larissa were about 2.75D characters - close, but not quite.
The plot also takes a long time to develop. I didn't mind this, because I was far more interested in the Russian setting and the day to day life as a psychic spy, but if you want a spy thriller, this might bother you. The thrill did get there eventually - the inevitable show-down between the good guys and the bad guys (who exactly is good and bad is often unclear) putting Yulia and her friends' lives on the limb. I thought the chase was well done and compelling, but it did take a very long time to get there.
I really enjoyed Sekret. I'd recommend approaching the book as a cultural and historical study with a vaguely supernatural spy plot as a side perk. The pages may not fly by, but the journey is a lot of fun.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
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