By Julie Mayhew
Published 27 August 2015
Jessika Davina Keller is the daughter of a high ranking official in an alternate history setting of modern day Nazi occupied England. She’s a good girl, who obeys her father. However when a family moves next door, she strikes up a friendship with their radical daughter Clementine that could change everything. Political unrest snaps at their heels and it soon forces Jessika to look beyond her blinkers and sheltered childhood. But what happens when the regime notices what’s going on behind closed doors?
I absolutely adored Julie Mayhew’s previous title from Hot Key Books, Red Ink, and had high hopes for the The Big Lie. My expectations were exceeded and then some, and the words “you HAVE to read this!” have been uttered emphatically many times since I first got my greedy mits on a copy. An alternate history with proud hot pink politics.
This powerful story weaves the past and present into a haunting image of life under the rule of the Reich – made all the more terrifying by its calm plausibility. Taking events such as Justin Bieber’s infamous message in Anne Frank’s house guest book and the protests and imprisonment of Pussy Riot, Mayhew’s modern day is not so far detached from our own.
As we are reading from Jessika’s reported recollections, events are disjointed, out of time, looking forward and back and missing out vital clues along the way to build an incomplete puzzle. Peeling back layers of propaganda and enforced naiveté is no easy feat. The main message of the book is to see, and to think. Challenge everything, even (especially) yourself and your own world view.
As I was reading one section in which a controversial concert is held in London’s Trafalgar Square, I couldn’t help but think of the 2014 LGBTQ* pride parade at which drag queen Conchita Wurst had performed having won Eurovision – all as the Russian laws against homosexuality were spread across the news.
This is particularly relevant due to Jessika’s loves and desires, her crushes and kisses – none of whom she can name out loud. As a young queer woman without the language to express her feelings, she forms relationships in secret, at once denying their existence to herself and terrified to share what’s happening to her with anyone else. The fear of being caught and the risk of being discovered is made all the more powerful due to the very real threat that faces her should she be found out.
If you’ve read Code Name Verity, Only Ever Yours, The Handmaid’s Tale, Anne Frank’s Diary or an issue of Glamour recently, this book is for you. If you’ve switched on the news and rolled your eyes at political reports in disdain or disinterest, this book is for you. If you’ve signed a petition and it didn’t feel like enough, this book is for you.
Read this book and ask yourself, are you free?
Jessika will infuriate you, but she is everyone who closes their eyes to avoid hurts, who loves their family and desperately wants to think the best of them, who sees the news but doesn’t know where to begin to combat the ills.
Clementine is radical, unapologetic and a spark of anger. Her mother is a whirlwind of desperate pleas to be heard. Her father is an enigma who fades before you ever get an idea of who he is.
There are many other characters that will stick with you: Ingrid, the ice skating coach who waits doggedly and patiently. Lilla, the next generation who hasn’t known anything else. GG, a source of comfort and a loose wire. Fischer, the misogynistic young guard who doesn’t think and forces his way onwards. The family of Harts, shouting to be heard.
But above all Jessika, whose golden scales fall off her eyes, and Clementine the tiny radical.
This book will send fury pumping around your veins: it’s an unapologetic, powerful shout for readers to view the world with their eyes wide open – at the ready to question everything. Read it, internalise it, tell your friends.
For fans of Noughts and Crosses, Only Ever Yours and The Book Thief. THE BIG LIE is a heartbreaking story that explores family loyalty, awakening sexuality and political activism. I absolutely could not put it down and it will stick with me for a very long time.
“Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine.”