Reviewed by A L Brooks
Set in a modern-day England that was successfully invaded by the Nazis in 1940, this book explores that what-if scenario through the eyes of a naive sixteen year old, Jessika. She is the model young mädchen of the Greater German Reich and believes utterly in the ‘perfect’ life presented to the people by the propaganda fed to them from on high. All that is shattered, slowly and surely, as she befriends and falls in love with the new girl next door, Clementine. Daughter of political parents who dare to defy the authorities, Clementine is everything Jessika is not – outspoken, questioning, rebellious.
This novel is brilliant and disturbing, and left me pondering it and its message for some days after finishing it. Julie Mayhew (who also wrote Red Ink, short-listed for the 2014 Branford Boase Award) has delivered up a fascinating and terrifying tale of an England we wouldn’t recognise, and yet which seems utterly believable. The gradual stripping away of Jessika’s innocence, and its repercussions, are sometimes very painful to witness, but always page-turningly gripping. Through Jessika’s story we get to explore and question what loyalty means, and how far any of us would go for someone we cared about. It’s a tale that is upsetting, thought-provoking and very, very clever.
The book is aimed at the Young Adult market, and when I first learnt this, I have to say I was perturbed. The subject matter, the language used, the imagery conjured up – all of it made me squirm at the thought of a kid aged maybe twelve to fourteen reading it. And then I stopped, and considered that for a long moment. Actually, why wouldn’t you let someone that young read this? What better age to introduce someone to the horrors of Nazism, to educate them early on to ensure another generation doesn’t let the world ever be taken over by such evil again? Let them ask the myriad of questions this book will undoubtedly raise in their minds because in the long run, that can only be a good thing.