Sekret (Sekret Series #1)
  • Sekret (Sekret Series #1)
  • Sekret (Sekret Series #1)

Sekret (Sekret Series #1)

4.5 6
by Lindsay Smith

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 02/17/2014
In this smart and fresh supernatural take on the spy novel, it’s 1963, and the Soviet Union and United States are deep into the Cold War, with spycraft a necessary trade on both sides. Yulia Andreevna Chernina, 17, has the unfortunate luck of getting scooped up by the psychic branch of the KGB for her ability to “read” the past when she touches an object. She is quickly swept into a world of Soviet spies, imprisoned in a house with other similarly gifted young men and women, all conscripted to unearth top-secret information from the Americans. Though Yulia yearns for escape and reunite with her family, she also learns valuable skills from the KGB’s psychic guardians, including how to shield her mind from other psychics through music. Debut novelist Smith’s background in foreign affairs and Russian culture shines through in the historical context of her story and the political savvy of her characters and plot. As one character puts it: “Space, weapons, psychics. Arms races, all of them, going nowhere.” Ages 12–up. Agent: Mandy Hubbard, D4EO Literary Agency. (Apr.)
Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
This is not the first historical novel about psychic superspies. However, the period of history in which Lindsay Smith places the story differentiates it, but also might pose a barrier of comprehension to teen readers who did not live through the post-War period. Lindsay Smith recreates an appropriately dark and gloomy sixties Soviet Union in which a group of genetically selected psychic teens have been recruited by the KGB to keep the Russians ahead of the United States in the space race. Premier Nikita Kruschev, Nikolai Breshnev, and Yuri Gagarian all make cameo appearances for a touch of realism. The main character is Yulia Chernina, the daughter of genetic scientists, who is kidnapped for her ability to read people’s history through touch. She plots her escape to freedom, only to be coerced into using her abilities when the secret police threaten her mother and her autistic brother. There is the obligatory love triangle involving Yulia, Sergie, and Valentin. Sergie is the more light-hearted of Yulia’s two suitors (if light-hearted can be applied to any of the characters in this book), while Valentin is the darker and more brooding character, perfectly suited to this dismal thriller. The “fearless leader” of the agency, Rustov, is ultimately evil. He is also a “scrubber,” a psychic brainwasher for the teenagers in his charge. Yulia discovers that her father was more malevolently involved in the psychic project than she knew and she was his guinea pig. The long list of Russian names and the use of patronymics are confusing; without firsthand experience of how the Cold War permeated everyday life in the post-War era, it may be hard to fully understand the urgency of the space race and the time period. It will take a persistent reader to fully appreciate this unique thriller. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross; Ages 12 up.
Voya Reviews, April 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 1) - Jessica Miller
Yulia Andreevna Chernina lives in hiding. Communist Russia is not a safe place for families that have chosen to leave their elite ranks. When Yulia is kidnapped after a trip to the black market, she must accept that the KGB has found her, and worse still, that they know about her ability. The KGB specifically hunted Yulia to exploit her ability to learn the history of objects and people through touch. They want to turn her into a psychic spy. She must cooperate within the “training school” they have created or they will hurt her family. Though she longs to run, her survival is doubtful without KGB protection, for they are not the only psychics out there hunting for her. Smith’s debut novel not only captivates through its fearsomely stubborn main character but also through its intriguing setting. Few young adult books have been set in the heart of Communist Russia, making Sekret a standout in this respect. It is evident that Smith has done her research, creating a believable scenario based on historical rumor that psychic spies were cultivated by the KGB. The book’s tension, coupled with a burgeoning romance and the revelation of some astounding secrets, will keep teen readers on the edge of their seats and primed for more. Reviewer: Jessica Miller; Ages 15 to 18.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Set in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, this bildungsroman follows Yulia Andreevna Chernina, 17, as she discovers a secret her parents have kept hidden her entire life: she is psychic. Yulia can soak up memories and emotions of anything or anyone she touches. Her journey to realizing her abilities and discovering love is told through dazzling first-person narration, thought-provoking flashbacks, and vivid memories. Yulia's father had left in search of help and a better life, but before he could return, his family is captured by the KaGeBezniks (KGB). Yulia is terrified to find herself locked in a warehouse with other psychics and a monstrous "scrubber" who can scrub away memories and control thoughts. With the fates of her brother and her mother hanging over her head, Yulia agrees to develop her powers in the psychic school while biding her time to snatch her freedom. The teen is a vivacious, clever character with a voice full of spellbinding imagery and wit. Smith mesmerizes readers with sprints and twists in the plot while revealing the incredible level of abuse doled out by the Russian government. Readers will be begging for Yulia and Valentin to make their escape into the sunset. A debut historical thriller.—Jamie-Lee Schombs, Loyola School, New York City
Kirkus Reviews
Cold War espionage smoothly blended with psychic romance. It's 1963, and 17-year-old Yulia is a starved "ration rat" in Khrushchev's Moscow. Her family, once high-ranking Communist Party members, has been on the run since her father vanished. Yulia thinks the mysterious psychic ability she uses in the black market is a secret until the KGB arrests her family. If she wants to protect her mother and brother, Yulia must join six other teenagers training for the KGB's "psychic operations wing," learning to smoke out dissidents and American spies. The teens protect their thoughts from one another—though not from their KGB masters—by filling their heads with subconscious music: the symphonic cellos and tympani of Shostakovich for Yulia, jazz improvisations for beautiful but dangerous Valentin, ancient Russian balalaika for Maj. Kruzenko. Yulia narrates with prose that ably reflects the sometimes-discordant cacophony of these disparate musical styles, as she seeks the simple melody that will explain family secrets and earn her freedom. Smith strikes an inexpert contextualizing balance, teetering between unexplained Russian and giving Yulia an outsider's view of her own culture. Still, the Soviet setting (uncannily similar to many a sci-fi dystopian future) is a flavorful backdrop for psychic espionage. A sudden cliffhanger sets up this fast-paced thriller (full of blaring brass and pounding drums) for a sequel. (historical note) (Science fiction. 13-16)
From the Publisher
"A debut historical thriller . . . Smith mesmerizes readers with sprints and twists in the plot while revealing the incredible level of abuse doled out by the Russian government." - School Library Journal "Smith's debut novel not only captivates through its fearsomely stubborn main character but also through its intriguing setting . . . The book's tension, coupled with a burgeoning romance and the revelation of some astounding secrets, will keep teen readers on the edge of their seats and primed for more." - VOYA "Smith's history adventure debut includes both paranormal and romance elements . . . The momentum becomes breakneck when secrets are revealed - readers will never know what is to be believed." - Booklist "Cold War espionage smoothly blended with psychic romance . . . A sudden cliffhanger sets up this fast-paced thriller for a sequel." - Kirkus Reviews  

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Product Details

Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
Sekret Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
770L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


An Empty Mind is a Safe Mind

By Lindsay Smith

Roaring Brook Press

Copyright © 2014 Lindsay Smith
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59643-893-4



MY RULES FOR THE BLACK MARKET are simple. Don't make eye contact — especially with men. Their faces are sharp, but their eyes sharper, and you never want to draw that blade. Always act as though you could walk away from a trade at any moment. Desperation only leaves you exposed. Both hands on the neck of your bag, but don't be obvious about it. Never reveal your sources. And always, always trust the heat on your spine that haunts you when someone is watching.

I pass through the iron gates to the alley off New Arbat Street. A mosaic of Josef Stalin smiles down on the ramshackle market he never would have permitted. If he were still our leader, the man wearing strings of glass beads, snipping them off for customers, would vanish overnight. The little girl with jars of bacon fat would emerge years later in a shallow ditch, her skull half eaten by lye.

Comrade Secretary Nikita Khruschev, the USSR's current leader, is content to ignore us. The Soviet Union provides everything you need, as long as you don't mind the wait: a day in line for butter and bread rations, another day for meat, seven years for automobiles, fifteen for a concrete-walled apartment where you can rest between factory shifts. Khruschev understands the stale-cracker taste of envy in every worker's mouth when a well-dressed, well-lived Communist Party official, more equal than the rest of us, strolls to the front of the ration line. If we quench our own thirst for excess in the black market, then that's less burden on the State. His KGB thugs only disrupt the market when we do something he cannot ignore — such as trading with known political dissidents and fugitives.

And I happen to be one.

A tooth-bare man lunges at me with an armful of fur coats. I don't want to know what creatures wore that patchwork bristly fur. "Not today, comrade," I tell him, straightening out my skirt. Today I must restock Mama's clinic supplies. (Average wait for a doctor's visit: four months. Average wait for a visit with Mama: three minutes, as she wrestles my brother Zhenya into another room.) The sour, metallic tang of fish just pulled from the Moskva River hits me and my stomach churns covetously, but I can only buy food with whatever's left over. We've lived off two food rations split five ways for some time now. We can live with it for some time more.

I spot the older woman I came for. Raisa, everyone calls her — we never use real names here. In this pedestrian alley, wedged between two disintegrating mansions from the Imperial days, we are all dissidents and defiants. We do not inform on each other for illegal bartering — not out of loyalty, but because doing so would expose our own illegal deeds.

Raisa's whorled face lifts when she sees me. "More Party goods for Raisa?" She beckons me into her "stall:" a bend in the concrete wall, shielded by a tattered curtain. "You always bring quality goods."

My chest tightens. I shouldn't be so predictable, but it's all I have to trade. The finer goods reserved for high- ranking Party members are worth their weight in depleted uranium here. I glance over my shoulder, hoping no one heard her. A boy and a girl — they look one and the same, with only a mirage-shimmer of gender to distinguish them — turn our way, but the rest of the market continues its haggling, lying, squawking. I let their faces sink into my thoughts in case I need to remember them later.

"Maybe you brought a nice filtered vodka? My boy, he wants a pair of blue jeans." Raisa ferrets through her trash bags. She still reeks of sweat from the summer months — not that I can criticize. I have to boil water on Aunt Nadia's stove to wash myself. "I have ointment for you, peroxide, gauze," she says. "You need aspirin? You always want aspirin. You get a lot of headaches?"

I don't like her making these connections, though for clinic supplies, I have little choice. If she knows about Mama's headaches, that's a weakness exposed. If she suspects we were Party members before we fled our home and became ghosts —

No. This is paranoia, gnawing at my thoughts like a starved rat. The KGB — the country's secret police and spying force — can only dream of training drills as thorough as my daily life, with all the ridiculous precautions I take. My fears are outweighed by one simple truth: I need something and Raisa needs something, and that will keep us safe.

Capitalism is alive and well in our communist paradise.

"Pocket watch." I hold Papa's watch by its twisted silver chain. "Painted face commemorates the forty-year anniversary of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics." My voice falters as memories of Papa ripple through me: He clicks it open, checks it, exhales a plume of smoke, tucks it in his coat, and turns back to the snow-slashed streets. "Wind it once a month and it'll run forever." I drop the watch in Raisa's palm, happy to bid those memories farewell.

"Not bad. Expensive ..." She bounces it in her hand, as if checking its weight. "But is it so practical? It will be forty-six years since the revolution this November. Outdated, yes?"

I wince. Has Papa been gone for five years? I turned seventeen last month, but there was no extravagant celebration like when we were favored in the Party. I've forgotten the taste of sugar frosting, the sound of wrapping paper tearing apart. I passed my birthday as I had the last four, keeping Mama and Zhenya hidden while I pawned away our history.

"Then it's a collector's item." I must be careful when defending an item's value. I've seen too many others expose their past or reveal their emotions when justifying a high price, but that's giving valuable information away. I must tell her only what she needs to hear. An empty mind is a safe mind, Papa always said.

Raisa nods, but looks unconvinced. Now we play the games of the market that can't be written into rules. Gauging your trading partner, assessing their offer, luring out what they really want and need. Knowing when to reveal what else you have to trade, and when to keep it hidden.

And I am better at this than most.

I move for the watch as if to take it back, but my fingertips linger against her skin. Concentrate, Yulia. In the moment when our skin touches, time shatters apart, like the world is run by a loose watch spring. I plunge into the emptiness, the silence around me, and when I surface from it I'm inside Raisa's thoughts.

She can turn a huge profit on the ointment — castoffs from the factory, because the formula was off. The peroxide cost her too much — a kilo of pork, and it was fresh, too. Raisa wants compensation. And me, always turning up with rich Party goods that raise too many questions when Raisa tries to sell them off —

I fall back into the void and thrash toward myself, and time winds back up to speed. I finish snatching the watch back and narrow my eyes.

"I don't want your ointment. I heard about the factory mishap. You thought I didn't know the formula was off?"

Raisa's jaw droops, the wart on her chin wobbling.

"You're not the right person for these goods," I say. "I'll look for someone who knows the value of Party items. Someone unafraid." I sling the bag over my shoulder and turn to leave.

"No — please, wait —" Her Baba Yaga witch-nails catch my sweater. The brief contact isn't enough for me to slip into her thoughts, but I sense her emotions in that touch: panic, fear, and ... loyalty. She will not turn me in.

How do I explain this ability I have? It must be something everyone does, unknowingly. Mama's textbooks say our sight and hearing are not such dominant senses as we believe. We smell others' emotions and taste their weaknesses. Me, I've found out how to focus thoughts and memories through touch, like steadying a radio antenna with your fingertips, the static sloughing off until a clear melody remains.

Or maybe, like my paranoia, I'm only imagining.

"Then let's talk seriously." I yank open my bag. "Keep your ointment. I want double the aspirin, and the gauze ..."

Warmth spreads along my back. The discomfort we feel when being watched — another intangible sense. Through a tear in Raisa's curtain, I get a better look at the twin boy and girl, russet halos of hair catching the afternoon sun, with matching disgusted expressions for their matching clothes. Their matching, expensive clothes. My nails split the bag's burlap fibers. Only junior members of the Communist Party — Komsomol, the youth wing — could dress so well.

"What's the matter, girl?" Raisa leans toward the curtain. "If you've brought the KGB to me ..."

The twins' gazes flit around the market like flies but keep returning to me. They duck under a cage of rabbits hung from the rafters, and glide toward us like Siberian tigers on the hunt. My blood is molten in my veins. The gnawing paranoia urges me to run, run, escape their doubled stare, run where their stiff new shoes can't follow. But what if I'm wrong? What if they aren't here for me, or only recognize me from my old life?

"Yulia Andreevna." The girl twin speaks my real name from lips that have never felt the rasp of winter. "Too easy. You don't even make it fun."

Raisa's curtain tears down easily in my grip. I swing its rod into the girl's face. She's caught off guard, but the boy twin's hand is there to catch it, like he already knew what I would do. I'm running, leaping over a stack of fabrics from the southern republics, shoving a bucketful of handmade brooms behind me to block the path.

"You can't run from what you are!" the boy shouts.

I chance a look over my shoulder. Yakov slows the twins, jabbing his box of rusty nails in their faces, but they disentangle from his sales pitch and knock over a little boy with bundled twigs. Who are they? Old schoolmates eager to turn in our family? I've cut all ties to our old life — we had to shed those snakeskin memories.

Vlad, the unofficial market guard, stands between me and the wrought-iron gate. I duck around him, but Aunt Nadia's shoes are a little too big on me and I skid to the side, losing my balance. He seizes the collar of my sweater in his fist. "You bring trouble, comrade?"

I wriggle out of the sweater and launch myself through the gates. My arms immediately prick with gooseflesh; it's too cold for just a blouse. But I have to ignore it. I have to reach Mama and make sure she's safe.

"You'll be sorry!" the girl twin screeches at me as I run past afternoon workers, shuffling out of the Metro stop. If I duck my head and keep my eyes to myself, they'll provide the perfect camouflage. "Don't you want to know what you are?"

What I am? I climb down the escalator slowly enough that I don't raise suspicion. My ratty clothes are lost in the sea of gray-brown-blue. Just another half-starved waif with empty eyes and empty hands. I know just what I am.

I am Yulia Andreevna Chernina, seventeen years old, daughter of former high-ranking Communist Party members. I am a fugitive in my own country. And sometimes I see things that can't be seen.


OUR SHELL-SHOCKED TANK of a neighbor lumbers toward me on the walkway, stinking of potato vodka and sleeplessness. I don't like the way his eyes pull from mine, like a magnetic repulsion. It's a guilty act, one I can't afford to ignore right now. Like the market, I need every advantage. As he brushes past me, I tighten up my mind — tuning that imaginary radio — and am thrown into his skin.

We are no longer standing in front of 22 Novaya Rodina, where the all-new apartment towers already look beaten and cowed. We are outside Lubyanka Square earlier this morning, standing in the bronze-cast shadow of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the father of the KGB, the secret police who tell us how to act, who to be. I peer out of the neighbor's eyes at a KGB officer in a mud-green coat who is smiling just enough to show the edge of his teeth. The officer scribbles in his notebook and says How long have the Chernins been hiding there?

This is the traitor, this neighbor who has reported us to the secret police, sentencing what's left of my family to death — for what? A bit of spending money? The twins at the market were no accident, though they didn't look like the usual KaGeBeznik thugs.

The officer lowers his notepad and jams his fist into a pocketful of worn-out rubles. We have been looking for them for some time, you know. The wad of notes dangles below my neighbor's nose. The Chernins are dangerous people. You were right to come to us.

I should have known, but there's no time to berate myself — or even this scum — so I fall back into the present and rush past him on the walk, thoughts of Mama pulling me toward the building.

Our building hangs over me as I rush up the too-long walk. It's made of giant concrete slabs cantilevered into place as if by magic — a Stonehenge for the people, the worker, the State. When Khruschev first built them, the workers were thrilled to leave the old roach-rotted, subdivided mansions that housed three families to a room. But to me, the building is our prison — I only leave it for the market or for a breath without four other bodies pressed against me. The rest of the time, my caged-animal stare could peel the lead paint from the walls. That girl dared to ask me what I am? I am the weed growing through the sidewalk's cracks, resilient, but knowing I'll someday be ripped out by the root.

I have to warn Mama. I don't know how long I've lost the twins for, if I've lost them at all. I don't know how many are with them. As I fumble with my key, I strain for the soft fall of boots on cement of a team sneaking around me, guns trained. But there is only me, with every instinct coiled in my genes screaming to save my family.

The elevator button clicks; an electrical current travels lazily down its wire, gears whirl, and the car yawns as it descends, as if it can't believe it must haul yet another person to the tenth floor. My nerves play a scale up and down my spine as the car jerks upward, rattling my teeth, the light of each floor drifting too slowly past the door's crack.

Can I trust this strange sight of mine, or is hunger and a five-year weariness in my bones confusing me? Maybe my head is just finding images it likes and stitching them together into patchwork paranoia. My parents are scientists — I don't believe anything that can't be proved. But it's been right too many times for me to doubt.

I reach the door to Aunt Nadia's apartment. Like the others in the antiseptic hall, it is black and densely padded, like we're in an asylum and can't be trusted with sharp, bright things. Unlike them, however, ours stands ajar. That little crack of air that should not be. My heart hides in my throat.

Sunlight dapples the front room, but it looks false, like someone's shaken an old, stale bottle of springtime and let it loose. No one sits on the bench, reading Gogol or trying to quiet the hunger that follows us as surely as our shadows. Only my gaunt reflection fills the foyer mirror, frazzled black hair escaping from its braids. Mama's coat hangs from the high hook with Zhenya's miniature one beside it; Aunt Nadia's and Cousin Denis's are gone.

It's four in the afternoon, the time I always walk Zhenya through the neighborhood, though I hate how predictable it makes us. It's hard to avoid routine with a brother who requires order the way some plants require a wall to anchor them. He'd have a fit if we didn't go, or worse, crumple up inside of himself and refuse to unfurl for the rest of the night. I open my mouth to call for him but can't force the words out into the open.


Excerpted from Sekret by Lindsay Smith. Copyright © 2014 Lindsay Smith. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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