A simple drawing of students in a classroom—all but one seated, all but two with hands raised—illustrates the cover of Liza Wiemer’s novel, THE ASSIGNMENT. The title is stamped in bold red caps, the author’s name in smaller white type at the bottom. An additional line of copy, a question, is printed at the top: Would YOU speak up for what’s right?
I met Liza Wiemer at a Write On, Door County event last year, and we became instant friends. She was working on THE ASSIGNMENT at the time, and told me the true story that inspired the manuscript she was writing. High school seniors in an Oswego, NY, area school were asked to portray Nazis in a debate. The two sides would argue for the best way to eliminate the Jewish people. Two students refused to participate.
THE ASSIGNMENT is told from varying points of view, but chapter breaks with title heads make the transitions easy to follow. We go deep inside the minds of Logan and Cade, the two students who refuse to debate. We feel the pressures with which many of the other teenagers constantly cope. We spend time with teachers and parents as everyone in a small, tight-knit community with zero Jewish residents lines up on one side or the other of the issue as it goes viral.
Liza and I stayed in touch in the months following the 2019 Door County event. Her book was sold to Delacorte Press, a division of Penguin Random House, and her editor at Delacorte pushed her for changes she felt would make the book even more powerful. Liza, who lives in Milwaukee, wound up making her final edits at our cottage on Washington Island. She told me that honing her novel in complete solitude, looking out on the vastness of Lake Michigan, was an unforgettable experience.
I happened to be at the cottage in Wisconsin this past August, when THE ASSIGNMENT was released, and eagerly awaited shipment to my favorite bookshop, Fair Isle Books. In the meantime, I knew I would be driving back to Iowa before returning to Washington Island mid-September. Cleverly, I downloaded the book from Audible and listened to the spoken version during my ten-hour drive.
Writers are often urged to “raise the stakes” in the stories we write—to increase the dramatic tension as the plot unfolds. THE ASSIGNMENT is a novel in which the author continually ups the ante. As I drove through Wisconsin, crossed the Mississippi, and entered my home state of Iowa, I was emotionally moved again and again, my eyelashes often damp as I blinked away tears. At one point, I had to pull off the road to process my thoughts.
THE ASSIGNMENT is categorized as YA (Young Adult), but adults play key roles throughout, making the story compelling for any reader. The chapters dedicated to the teens will take you back to the halls of high school, where emotions, loyalties, and peer pressure reign.
The question posed on the cover, Would YOU speak up for what’s right? has stayed with me. It’s been decades since I was a senior in high school, and thinking back, I don’t know that I would have had the courage to speak up, regardless of the consequences, the way the young people in THE ASSIGNMENT do. Speaking truth to power is a challenge hard to meet, even as an adult.
I wound up purchasing not one, but six copies of THE ASSIGNMENT from Fair Isle. I’m keeping one forever, have given one to a writer friend, and three to educators I know. If you are currently an educator in a US high school, send me a note via the “contact” option above. Let me know if you could use this book in your curriculum, and I’ll mail my last copy to you.
PS Here’s a link from Fair Isle Books that will take you directly to the page where you can buy THE ASSIGNMENT directly from an independent bookstore.