Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Sekret by Lindsay Smith

Release date: April 1, 2014
Author info: Website | Twitter
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Pages: 337
Format: Egalley
Source: Publisher provided through Netgalley
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
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.

I could summarize how I feel about Sekret in one word: Meh. I won't leave it there, because it deserves more of a review than that, but "Meh" gets to the core of my problem. I just couldn't connect to this story. I couldn't feel sympathy for Yulia, or anyone else. I never felt much urgency in the story. I kept reading because I was mildly interested in finding out who the scrubber was (though my idea from the beginning was right). Sekret isn't a bad book and there are elements that are really well done, but it never captured my imagination or sympathy.

The historical aspects of Sekret are really well done, and it's pretty obviously Lindsay Smith knows what she's talking about there. I liked seeing Russia in this time period and actually never had any idea before that there was a big difference in how Russia was governed following Lenin. I also really liked reading a perspective that regarded Americans as bad, since I'm obviously American and have been taught how we weren't the bad guys. It's fascinating to read about someone who thinks so negatively of something that I think positively of, to view a time in history from different eyes.

I also liked the psychic idea in general, since this was something very prevalent in that time. There were real experiments going on in Russia, and in the US, testing people for psychic abilities, using drugs like LSD, and even torturing people to trigger their "psychic abilities". So imagine if they had found people with the ability to read others' thoughts? How would the government use them? It's an interesting idea to consider, and one I enjoyed seeing in Sekret. I do think the powers could have been better developed and more exact in their descriptions, though.

Like I said, though, I couldn't find myself really enjoying what I read. Yulia is impetuous and a little dumb in her decision-making, and I never connected to her or her hardships. At times, it's kind of annoying that she's almost rewarded for disobeying, but apparently she's special. The romance is okay, and I generally liked the guy she ends up with. It's sort of a love triangle, but Yulia quickly knows who she likes and is only fending the other off. I think what originally drew me to the book is also what made me not like it as much, though. The synopsis promises espionage and excitement, yes? But there's very little of that. They go on "missions" but it's so Yulia can walk around and touch walls. It's not exciting, and my hopes and expectations were dashed. The ending is fairly interesting and makes up a bit for a lack of action previously, but it can't really make up for the rest of the story.

Sekret isn't a bad book. Every bit of history is done well and thoroughly, and the premise is very appealing. But it falls flat in emotion and characterization of the protagonist, and a premise that promises action throughout only delivers in the final moments.

About the author:

Lindsay Smith’s love of Russian culture has taken her to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and a reindeer festival in the middle of Siberia. She lives in Washington, DC, where she writes on foreign affairs. SEKRET is her first novel.

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