Thanks to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: August 25th, 2020
Synopsis: In the vein of the classic The Wave, and inspired by a real-life incident, this riveting novel explores discrimination and antisemitism and reveals their dangerous impact.
Senior year. When an assignment given by a favorite teacher instructs a group of students to argue for the Final Solution, a euphemism used to describe the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people, Logan March and Cade Crawford are horrified. Their teacher cannot seriously expect anyone to complete an assignment that fuels intolerance and discrimination. Logan and Cade decide they must take a stand. As the school administration addresses the teens’ refusal to participate in the appalling debate, the student body, their parents, and the larger community are forced to face the issue as well.
The situation explodes, and acrimony and anger result. What does it take for tolerance, justice, and love to prevail?
Author Liza Wiemer with Jordan April and Archer Shurtliff, the two teens who inspired the upcoming The Assignment.
Many people find it difficult to take a stand against the majority, no matter what the issue, and for teens, it’s nearly impossible when faced with peer pressure. In 2017, two teens, Jordan April and Archer Shurtliff took a courageous stand when their teacher gave their class the assignment of debating the Nazis Final Solution. For the pro side, students were asked to promote the slaughter of Jews. For those arguing against genocide, they were supposed to instead argue for forced sterilizations, ghettos, and concentration and work camps. The idea behind this exercise is that would foster critical thinking. Neither Jordan or Archer is Jewish, but they found the assignment morally reprehensible. If you’d like more on this story, please follow this link: https://www.newyorkupstate.com/schools/2017/04/oswego_teens_give_new_york_a_lesson_on_nazi_holocaust_assignments.html
THE ASSIGNMENT is inspired by these two teens and I found it very thought-provoking. Liza Wiemer has said she was originally going to write this from a third person omniscient perspective, but decided to switch to multiple povs after hearing from several agents. This was the best decision she could have made because it allows the story to pack an even more powerful punch. The chapters primarily alternate between Logan and Cade so you’re privy to their innermost thoughts. You also get glimpses into what other characters are thinking including the teacher, which lends even more nuance to this complex story. There are a couple of things which prevent me from giving this a perfect 5 stars. First, I found the dialogue formal and stilted a few times and it didn’t sound like teens talking to each other. And second, while I really connected with Cade due to the amount of detail about his personal life, unfortunately there wasn’t that same level of detail in regards to the other characters, not even Logan who I’d have liked to know more about.
As someone with Jewish heritage and a distant cousin who barely survived the death camps, I have very strong feelings regarding this. For me, there are certain things, no matter how well-intentioned, that should never be debated. An assignment requiring students to reenact Hitler’s Wannsee Conference to debate the Final Solution is one such topic. By opening this up for debate, you’re allowing for an argument to be made that the Holocaust was justified. Students can be taught about these events and the mindset behind anti-semitism without lending credence to these abhorrent beliefs. In her author’s note Liza Wiemer, in addition to relating her own experiences with anti-semitism as a child, gives some examples of other jaw-dropping school assignments that have been given out in recent years. These include a slave auction where white students bid on their black classmates, and an exercise where students were asked to write down “three good reasons and three bad reasons for slavery.” There are other examples as well, so it’s imperative that you read this section as well. Despite the couple of flaws I found, I highly recommend THE ASSIGNMENT for classrooms, libraries, book discussion groups, and community reads.