Julie Mayhew, The Big Lie, Hot Key Books, September 2015, 368pp., $16.95 (pbk), ISBN: 9781471404702
Julie Mayhew’s The Big Lie is speculative fiction about a current day Britain in which the Nazis won World War II. Jessika, the teenage protagonist, is developing romantic feelings for her friend Clementine, who is questioning Nazi ideology. The novel follows Jessika’s unquestioning acceptance of her culture, through her questioning her sexuality and her decision about whether to support Clem’s rebellion.
Mayhew has done a great deal of historical research, which she discusses in an informative afterword. She also includes an annotated bibliography of further reading on World War II. The afterword and the bibliography draws connections between historical oppression and rebellion, and contemporary oppression and rebellion. For instance, she points out that “young gay people are still sent to priests, psychiatrists and needle-wielding doctors to ‘correct’ their homosexuality.”
I was disappointed that the ending left the queer main character “being forced to marry [a man]to atone for the terrible things” she has done. This ending is realistic, given the setting, but it fits into a long history of queer characters in YA fiction ending up dead or miserable. Surely by 2015 we can write books for young people in which LGBT characters can have happy and fulfilling queer relationships?
This book would suit history buffs who would enjoy figuring out the ways in which Mayhew has woven in Nazi history and culture, such as the cover image from a genuine 1936 German publication, and the way 21st century technology and culture has been integrated into this setting, such as the scene in which a Justin Beiber-like American pop star gives a controversial performance at a Nazi rally. The Big Lie would be a challenging read for teenagers without a solid knowledge of history, but it would function well as a tie-in text to high school history classes on WWII and as spring board for discussion about oppression and rebellion.
Reviewed by Lian Beveridge