BOOK REPORT for The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew

Cover Story: The Big Font/Face

BFF Charm: Nein

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

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Talky Talk: Unreliable Narrator

Bonus Factor: Alt-History

Relationship Status: Die Wahrheit Wird Dich Frei Machen

 

Cover Story: The Big Font/Face

This American cover is perfectly serviceable, but not particularly exciting. The face-off between the two girls underscores the title, but it doesn’t give you much of a clue as to what the book is actually about.

The Deal:

Jessika is a good girl living in England, now a German territory. She’s the talented, ice-skating daughter of a high-ranking Nazi official, and although her life is already planned out for her (early marriage, healthy blonde babies to populate the Reich), she seems to lead a charmed one.

But not everything is what it seems. Why is her outspoken best friend, Clementine, scheduled for a sterilization procedure, when clearly she’s not disabled or otherwise outwardly undesirable? Why does Clementine’s family go against the rules, time and time again? Don’t they want to honor the Reich?

And why does Jess want to kiss Clem?

BFF Charm: Nein

As much as I feel sorry for Jess, who blindly believes everything she is told by her strict father and circumspect mother, hell no, I don’t want to give her my BFF charm. Her critical thinking skills are sorely lacking for most of the novel. I hate that the kid has been raised to be a good puppet, but open your eyes, girl!

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Obviously, Sapphic love is not permitted in Nazi England, but that doesn’t stop Jess from exchanging kisses with her best friend and another girl of the same sexual persuasion. She grapples with the joy of putting her face on someone else’s face, which conflicts with everything she’s ever been told in her life: homosexuals are an aberration.

The kisses, while steamy in their own right, aren’t really swoonworthy. The sense of impending dread overshadows everything else.

Talky Talk: Unreliable Narrator

I love a good unreliable narrator, and Jess definitely fits the bill. The timeline jumps around, and there’s just as much said in what Jess leaves out as in what she chooses to disclose.

This is a brutal novel, particularly in today’s depressing political climate: you can expect to read about forced sterilization, racism, homophobia, mass murder, and other facets of 20th century Nazism. It’s well-researched, but chilling. It’s not hard to picture the same thing happening in the USA, and in many respects, it already is.

Bonus Factor: Alt-History

Alt-history can be a real gamble, especially books that deal with the Holocaust, but I think Mayhew does an incredible job here. Her author’s note is almost more enjoyable than the novel itself. It details her research, what is taken from real Nazi propaganda and media (almost everything), and where she took liberties.

Unlike other WWII-based books I’ve read, this one didn’t ping my radar as glorifying Nazism, white-savior-ism, or focusing on the Nazis instead of the Jews they murdered. While, yes, it does focus on an Aryan daughter of the Reich, Jess is no hero. The end of the book is every bit as unsettling as the beginning, and you get the distinct sense that although Jess’ eyes are slowly opened to what’s really happening, she’s still just a cog in the machine.

Relationship Status: Die Wahrheit Wird Dich Frei Machen

Book, your premise intrigued me, and your execution didn’t disappoint—you were eerie, timely, and thought-provoking. You might frustrate readers who want a clearly-defined plot and ending, but for those who care to puzzle it over, I think they’ll find you as rewarding as I did.

The Big Lie is available now.

Jennie lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. When she’s not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, runs an Etsy shop, and thrifts for vintage everything.