Julie Mayhew‘s second novel, The Big Lie, will be published by Hot Key Books on August 27th. Thank you so much to Hot Key Books for sending Wenlock Books a copy of this – it’s definitely going on our YA shelves!
The Big Lie is a speculative fiction set in 2014 where Britain is governed by the Nazi regime and everybody must fulfil their role. Jessika Keller is a good girl who plays her part as expected; her best friend Clementine is not. As daughters of the Greater German Reich, Jessika and Clementine are told what to believe and must believe what they are told. Freedom of speech is forbidden and it’s getting Clementine into trouble.
I really, really enjoyed this book and I think that Julie Mayhew has done an exceptional job of weaving so many present issues (consent, relationships, family, sexuality, gender roles) into a book that upon first glance appears terrifyingly distant from the world that we live in. Julie’s impeccable research makes this book so completely believable because almost every aspect of it accurately reflects Nazi German culture. From Jessika’s membership with the Bund Deutscher Mädel, an organisation that encourages teenage girls to develop a fanatical love of the Fatherland; to the magazines, textbooks and storybooks that she reads; to the songs that she and her friends sing, every detail is true of life under Nazi regime. Consequently, Jessika’s story feels entirely realistic.
It’s this realism that makes The Big Lie such a powerful book to read. It seems impossible to feel anything other than despair for the situations that Jessika finds herself in but yet there were times when I surprised myself by feeling that she deserved to be punished for her actions. Julie is such a fantastic writer who has so carefully and so brilliantly reflected the authoritative manipulation felt by children of the Greater German Reich. There were occasions when reading this book where I thought, ‘Jessika you’re making things harder for yourself’ before stopping and reminding myself that Jessika’s actions are not the issue rather that the system controlling her is. It’s Julie’s ability to make you feel shocked by your own thoughts that makes her such an incredible writer, and it’s what makes this book such an important novel to read.
There are many similarities to be drawn between The Big Lie and Only Ever Yours and I think that just like Louise O’Neill’s debut, The Big Lie is deserving of an awful lot of prizes. As well as making the reader think about the way that they perceive authority, The Big Lie raises questions about revolution and what it means to be truly free. Jessika’s best friend Clementine is a free-thinker, whose parents live as radicals in the upstanding community that Jessika’s family are representatives for. Clementine’s parents dare to comment on their leaders, freely discuss their desires for gender equality, and believe that their daughter is ‘an artist, not a soldier!’ Clementine too acts as a rebel, listening to CDs on a forbidden CD player and promising to keep Jess’s sexuality a secret rather than reporting her to be corrected.
Julie’s depiction of Jessika’s struggle to come to terms with Clementine’s radicalism is utterly brilliant as it forces the reader to consider if they would act based on belief like Clementine, or retreat in fear like Jessika. I think it’s quite easy to read a book and think that someone’s decisions are brave but it’s not until you read something like The Big Lie that you’re challenged to objectively look at your own choices. I know that I wouldn’t ever publicly question authority if I was living in the same world as Jessika and Clementine and that’s why reading this made me at times feel quite sad. It takes an awful lot for a system to be overthrown and in strict regimes that spark is hard to come by. I’m sure that you could read this and wonder how a society like the Greater German Reich could prevail in 2015, but you only have to look as far as North Korea to see that this does still exist.
I thought that Julie’s depiction of radicalism was very interesting and I particularly enjoyed watching Jessika’s awareness of issues within the Greater German Reich grow. As each chapter signals the beginning of a new month, the readers are able to watch Jessika’s fall from model daughter of the Reich as she loses trust in the system that raised her. During this period of not knowing what to believe, we see Jessika discovering empowerment and feminism, and I thought that this was a beautiful way to weave these themes into the story. There is a time in all females’ lives when they discover who they are and I believe that Julie portrayed this wonderfully.
There is a fantastic quote on the back cover which I think so perfectly sums up not just The Big Lie, but also all speculative fiction: “At its heart, it’s not really fiction. There was little that I had to make up. My fiction just grew from the facts. So perhaps all I did was create a jigsaw puzzle rather than write a book. But if that is what I did, it is certainly not a jigsaw puzzle of the past.” This could apply to Only Ever Yoursjust the same, and in fact I think that this is the perfect book for those who enjoy Louise O’Neill’s books and articles. I’m so pleased that Young Adult fiction is asking more than questions, but asking us to think about ourselves and the impact that we make. The Big Lie is utterly brilliant and is a book that I think we will be talking about for a very long time.