I am slightly too young to remember the harsh realities of the Cold War era. I never experienced a bomb drill in school, and the US had landed on the Moon several years before my birth; however, Sekret drew me in with the unique setting and morally ambiguous protagonist. Fantasy and history were weaved together so expertly that I found myself double checking certain facts online to identify which plot points were real. Ms. Smith clearly loves Russian culture and researched Soviet history thoroughly to create such a strong setting. Yulia is a somewhat difficult heroine for me to like simply because, like many teenage girls, she struggles to identify her true purpose. She is sidetracked by hormones, worry about her family, and ethical concerns surrounding the use of her psychic abilities for the KGB while simultaneously wanting to do anything necessary to create her own path; however, by the end of the novel, I believed that the young woman was growing and recognized what she needed out of life, and she was willing to take major steps to secure her future.
Yulia is not the only morally ambiguous character in the story, though; the majority of the major cast members are shown to have both selfish and generous motives for their behavior, and the constant need to look over one’s shoulder and being unsure who to trust, even inside the training school, echoes the culture of the Soviet Union in the 1960s. No one is straightforward, and when someone promises to be entirely honest, that’s a cue to guard your words.
My only real complaint about Sekret is that Ms. Smith introduces several small storylines early in the novel, but only one is followed to completion. While some of the side plots build up the tension, others felt a little distracting and left me scratching my head. By the end of the book, I was unsure exactly what the main point would be. On a lesser note, I didn’t need the love triangle with Sergei, Valentin, and Yulia. The story was riveting enough without introducing romantic entanglements, but I accept that almost all YA novels demand love interests.
Overall, Sekret is a YA novel, but it may be a little sinister for some young readers. It explores the darker elements of Soviet history and doesn’t shy away from examining it harshly through Yulia’s eyes. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in the time period or who, like me, knows little about it. Lindsay Smith has done an amazing job showing how dystopian societies aren’t just in sci-fi; they can be as close as a look to the world’s past.
4 Erased Memories out of 5
Sekret by Lindsay Smith will be released on April 1, 2014, wherever books are sold.