The Big Lie

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Reviews Young Adult -

Julie May­hew, Can­dlewick Press (NOVEM­BER) Hard­cover $17.99 (352pp), 978-0-7636-9125-7

In a fu­tur­is­tic Eng­land where the Nazis won the Sec­ond World War, Jes­sika Keller is a model cit­i­zen. Her fam­ily is per­fect, her fa­ther is a high-rank­ing of­fi­cial. But her con­form­ity feels like an itchy suit, and the more rules she breaks, the more she sees what’s re­ally below the sur­face of the “per­fect” so­ci­ety she lives in. Julie May­hew’s The Big Lie is a bold, breath­tak­ing novel.

Jess’s care­fully con­structed life starts com­ing apart on the first page, and it soon be­comes ap­par­ent that Jess lives in a highly op­pres­sive, cup­cake fas­cist world. The novel’s ten­sion is in what Jess fig­ures out, and when. She sees the dis­con­nec­tion be­tween re­al­ity and the lie ev­ery­one pre­tends to be­lieve: “In the bat­tle inside your brain, of­ten the made-up im­age is more pow­er­ful than any­thing else.”

Jess learns that her neigh­bor, Clemen­tine, is part of an anti-regime group that’s been smug­gling state se­crets to other coun­tries. The novel stays tight and creepy in scenes where the friends are alone and able to talk hon­estly. Switch­ing from English to Ger­man, or us­ing a mish­mash of the two, they de­scribe a place that lines its white picket fences with barbed wire. May­hew moves the plot along quickly, keep­ing char­ac­ters in dan­ger.

With ele­ments of 1984 and The Hand­maid’s Tale, The Big Lie is sick­en­ing and thrilling at the same time. Cen­sor­ship, sex­u­al­ity, loy­alty, and revo­lu­tion are all ex­tremely timely sub­jects. May­hew’s grasp of Ger­man cul­ture and the po­ten­tial out­come of los­ing to Nazi forces gives The Big Lie a re­fresh­ing ur­gency.

Fright­en­ing in its re­al­ness, The Big Lie is a stand­out: a warn­ing, a call to ac­tion, and a ter­rific novel.

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