Book Review

The Assignment

The Assignment

Author: Liza Wiemer

Genre: YA Contemporary

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

Publisher: Delacorte Press

CONTENT WARNING: racism, homophobia, antisemitism, mention of emotional/verbal/physical abuse, death of a family member, parental abandonment, discussion of the Holocaust

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Senior year.

When an assignment given by a favorite teacher instructs a group of students to argue for the Final Solution, a euphemism for the Nazi plan of 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 into acrimony and anger. What will it take for tolerance, justice, and love to prevail?

In the vein of the classic The Wave, this riveting novel explores discrimination and antisemitism and reveals their dangerous impact. Inspired by a true incident, The Assignment will remind readers that they have choices — and that their choices can make a difference.

First of all, I’d like to thank Liza for her generous gift of this book. I am providing an honest review voluntarily. 

We had initially connected through social media after I had shared my outrage of blatantly antisemitic statements in an ARC that I had read (you can see my review of that book here), and once we had been chatting for a while, she offered to send me a copy of this book to read. I jumped at the chance, since it sounded not only interesting, but incredibly relevant to current events. 

The story starts out with Logan and Cade, who are best friends, sitting in a history class as they receive an assignment. They are told that they will be assigned a pro or con position in a debate on the Wannsee Conference, where Nazi leaders decided the best way to deal with the Jewish “problem” in their country. However, the pro side argues for extermination, while the con side argues for sterilization, ghettos, and work camps. 

While their classmates react in a variety of ways, Logan and Cade are quick to speak out against this assignment. It takes a lot of guts to speak up against a respected teacher, especially one that you’ve looked up to. But when they approach the teacher and try to discuss what they see as a major issue, they’re shut down quickly:

“‘The point is to understand all sides and be prepared to debate. I promise, after you complete this work, you’ll have a better grasp on how to create and present compelling arguments.’”

But Logan and Cade aren’t about to give up on this fight. I couldn’t help but admire these two kids, who live in a homogenous area with very little diversity. While the school doesn’t have any Jewish children enrolled, both of the main characters have strong moral values and stand up for what they believe in. I loved seeing how even though they faced adversity as a result of their choices, they were able to rely on each other for strength. 

While the point of view mainly shifts between Logan and Cade, there are also chapters told from the viewpoint of other characters as well. It gives a lot more insight into what is going on behind the scenes, and adds a bit more depth to the story. 

There’s a huge role that social media and technology plays in this book as well. It makes me really glad that I grew up before smartphones (ok, cell phones at all) and social media were even a thing. But it also makes me realize how much of an effect it really has on not just the story, but on day-to-day life. In this book, social media plays a dual role — it’s helpful in disseminating information and getting exposure, but it also can be used harmfully. I think most of us are aware of the dark side of social media, and how people can hide behind a screen and share hateful things without revealing who they really are.

The material shared in this book is incredibly timely. It discusses not just antisemitism, but racism, homophobia, hate, and injustice. Rather than focusing on simply the Holocaust, it also shows how far we still have to go as a society by bringing more recent events to light:

“‘We only need to look to Sudan and Myanmar, to name just a few nations, to understand that genocide is not history. It’s a part of our modern society. We can turn to China and the reports of concentration camps holding up to a million Uighur Muslims.’”

On a personal note, this book made me cry SO. MANY. TIMES. It really kicked up a lot of emotion for me, since it also touches on not only my cultural history and family’s experiences, but also my own personal experiences. I know that when my father came to the US after surviving the Holocaust, he settled in an area with a large Jewish population so that we wouldn’t have to grow up feeling afraid to be Jewish. We all want to feel safe where we live. But no matter where I’ve been, how diverse the area is, and how many Jewish families are around, the ugly specter of antisemitism rears its head. I grew up having my father tell all of us that you can’t trust anyone because that’s how he grew up — the people you knew your whole life and lived next door to would turn you in to the Nazis just because you’re Jewish. And when swastikas were spray painted at my high school, or we heard antisemitic slurs or jokes, I always spoke out. Because this quote is the truth:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” — Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor

So if you see hate, oppression, suffering, or humiliation, SPEAK UP. Even when it doesn’t affect you directly. ESPECIALLY when it doesn’t affect you directly. Because hate affects us all in the end. This book does an amazing job of showing both sides: how hate hurts and how kindness heals.

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