Review: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

Sekret
Lindsay Smith

Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan Kids
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for review.
April 1, 2014
341 pages
YA / Alt History / Fantasy

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An empty mind is a safe mind.

Yulia knows she must hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia. But if she sometimes manipulates the black market traders by reading their thoughts when she touches their skin, so what? Anything to help her survive.

Russia's powerful spy agency, the KGB, is recruiting young people with mind-reading capabilities for their psychic espionage program. Their mission: protect the Soviet space program from American CIA spies. Why shouldn't the KGB use any means necessary to make the young psychic cooperate? Anything to beat the American capitalist scum to the moon.

Yulia is a survivor. She won't be controlled by the KGB, who want to harness her abilities for the State with no regard for her own hopes and dreams. She won't let handsome Sergei plan her life as a member of elite Soviet society, or allow brooding Valentin to consume her with his dangerous mind and even more dangerous ideas. And she certainly won't become the next victim of the powerful American spy who can scrub a brain raw—and seems to be targeting Yulia.

Either Lindsay Smith did loads of research or she’s really good at world building within the parameters of realty, but whatever it took for her to create the world of Sekret, it was worth it. I bought the communistic Russian culture that would steal away budding psychic teenagers in an attempt to get a leg up on the Cold War. I don’t know much about Russia during the Communist era, but this mix of historical fiction and fantasy was a great way to pique my interest.

Yulia has a secret talent that provides her with a sixth sense to keep herself out of trouble and protect her family. Until one day when some teenagers follow her through the black market and she finds that her home has been abandoned, her mother and brother (heavily implied to be autistic) kidnapped. In order to guarantee their safety, she has to join up with a handful of other secretly talented teenagers under the guidance of a strict female army officer. Yulia can see the history of objects, reliving the events that happened around them, while her cohorts can implant thoughts, erase memories, see events from across town and other psychic powers that would come in very handy for spycraft.

Unfortunately the super-secret psychic spies are being chased by an American spy with the capabilities to destroy minds. As Yulia tries to escape while still maintaining the safety of her captured family, she finds herself crossing paths with this formidable enemy who seems to always be three steps ahead. Sekret is an often unpredictable spy thriller with fantasy elements that kept me pulled into the world of Communist Russian from nearly the beginning until the final page.

Yulia is a strong-willed and determined protagonist with clear motivations and goals, though perhaps being a little naïve regarding what exactly she’s capable of accomplishing. She made sure that her life never became boring and the love triangle she inadvertently finds herself in the middle of is the least love triangle-y love triangle I’ve ever seen, which was refreshing. Rather than focus on boys, she was more concerned about the real life percussions of what her superiors were asking her to do than of the boys wanting her attention. It always makes me happy when a protagonist is more focused on what is obviously the more important issues than just what boys are around.

The secondary characters surround Yulia are mostly defined by their powers and a personality trait. There’s a mean girl, a jock, a stuck-up boy, the mean matron, and the creepy authority figure among others. Only Valentin has a bit more depth to him, but it takes a while for him to break out of the broody bad boy mold to prove he’s more than just a stereotype. Once he’s given some more depth and motivation, he becomes a compelling character that was worth Yulia’s time.

The rules behind the psychic talents are hazy at best, but it didn’t bother me as much as I expected. With mind readers around, you’d expect everyone to know about Yulia’s various plotting even with the music supposedly masking her thoughts. She’s surrounded by people more experienced with their talents and who have been honing their powers for years whereas Yulia only learned what it is she could do. It’s a little inconsistent, but the adventure and interesting setting outweighed any potential frustration that could have been caused by the inconsistencies.

Sekret is a promising beginning to a series unlike any other current YA series I’ve come across. Communist Russian provides a backdrop that makes the spy caper story unique in execution and Smith’s writing keeps the pacing consistent while allowing the suspense to ebb and flow naturally. I look forward to the future adventures of Yulia, Valentin and the other psychic spies that make up this universe.

 

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.