THE ASSIGNMENT, by Liza Wiemer

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.

12 Responses

  1. Stephanie
    | Reply

    This book sounds really good. I will purchase a copy myself.

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Thanks, Stephanie. Nice to see your name and face!

  2. Julie Feirer
    | Reply

    Marianne — I am super curious about this book now and will check it out. Thank you for another great book review!

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Thanks, Julie! Mara would like this, too, I think.

  3. Deborah Harrison
    | Reply

    Marianne, my teacher/daughter by marriage is into her second year as a teacher/mentor at a school system right here in Iowa. This means she can read and recommend THE ASSIGMENT to all her teachers. I know she would appreciate the gift of this book. Her name is Hallee Grantham Harrison and she is part of the Clear Creek Amana teaching community.

    I will be reading this book and subsequently giving my copy to our grandkids as they become age appropriate. I read every WWII book in my local library by the time I finished 8th grade. One of my majors in college was history. My senior thesis in history was the influence of political and promotional artwork (specifically the posters) used by both the Allies and the Axis in war.
    Thank you for considering Hallee for the book.

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Hello Deborah, Hallee sounds like the perfect recipient for my extra copy of THE ASSIGNMENT. I’ll need a mailing address, of course, so please shoot me a note at marianne.fons@gmail.com. If you want it mailed via a school address rather than her personal address, I understand. I’m glad you will read this book! Who knows, maybe you will happen to cross paths with author Liza Wiemer one day and will have the opportunity to “talk history.”

      • Deborah Harrison
        | Reply

        Marianne, thank you so much. I sent you her address. She will be so excited! After I taught her to quilt, I gave her a copy of the beginning quilting guide by Liz and you. Mine was signed at one of Liz’s Ground Hog Day workshops with the Waterloo quilt. I have lots of your books, have been to the museum and have taken bus trip to Lincoln from Winterset.

        • Marianne Fons
          | Reply

          Deborah, I received the address and will mail the book to Hallee today. I’m glad QUILTER’S COMPLETE GUIDE has been with you and Hallee. Thanks for visiting the Iowa Quilt Museum.

  4. Jeannie Kokes
    | Reply

    What an compelling introduction to a book I want to share with my high school granddaughter and my grandson who is studying to become a teacher!
    Marianne – thank you for being a part of the energy bringing The Assignment and its critical message to our
    attention.
    NOTICE – we can change ourselves – we can change others by our example.

    Jeannie Kokes

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Hi Jeannie, thanks for reading my review. I just received a link from Deb at Fair Isle that takes you directly to the page where you can buy the book. You could probably have it sent directly to your granddaughter and grandson: https://bookshop.org/a/494/9780593123164

  5. Carole
    | Reply

    I bought the book THE ASSIGNMENT
    based on your intriguing review. It is an excellent read! Thank you!

    • Marianne Fons
      | Reply

      Carole, that’s great news. I’m so glad you liked it. One “read” may be enough for you, but the audio version I listened to is very, very well done. The actors who read the parts of Logan and Cade (especially Cade) are terrific.

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