The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew; Candlewick Press, 321 pages ($17.99) Ages 14 and up.
What would life be like if Britain had been defeated by the Nazis? British writer Julie Mayhew has written an unsettling page-turner of a novel, set in "Nazi England in 2014," a thrilling and beautifully crafted exploration of family, coming-of-age, friendship, sexuality, loyalty, protest and betrayal and what it truly means to be "good."
Jessika Keller is a champion ice skater, an exemplary member of the Bund Deutscher Madel (the League of German Girls) and a "good girl" expected to marry and produce children for the Fatherland. Jessika fully believes what she has learned in school and from her parents about Hitler, about obedience, the proper role of women, about dangerous people, dangerous music, the need for babies not "born right" to be taken away. Jessika is exposed to upsetting ideas from next-door-neighbor Clementine Hart, her best friend since age 7, and slowly, painfully begins to gain a new perspective.
Mayhew shifts back and forth in time in Jessika’s narrative, brilliantly depicting life in a closed-information society, and the struggle of someone starting to awaken to the possibility of another way. The political backdrop of this alt-history reality is convincingly done and enhanced with the extensive use of German phrases. There's a helpful glossary and other notes at the back explaining her use of such small details as a letter paraphrasing writing by a political prisoner at Ravensbruck and Jessika's mother referring to "The Poisonous Mushrooms," a storybook designed to instill fear of the Jewish people.
Mayhew says she was inspired to write her own version of "what would have happened if the Nazis had won" when Justin Bieber visited Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam and wrote in the visitors' book: "Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a Belieber." So it seems very fitting that a pop music concert becomes the stage for a dramatic act of rebellion in "The Big Lie." This haunting, deeply disturbing novel will stay with you long after the final page is turned.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid No. 12: The Getaway by Jeff Kinney; Abrams, 217 pages ($13.95) Ages 8 to 12.
Stressed out by the approaching Christmas holidays, the Heffleys decide to get away from it all, planning a family vacation with teenage Roderick, "Wimpy Kid" Greg and little Manny at the resort where they spent their honeymoon. In this 12th outing, Jeff Kinney weaves another hilarious, out-there yarn for tweens, illustrated with his trademark cartoons, as Greg gets to experience the hassles of air travel, complete with a crying baby who steals his seat, and a vacation "paradise" with stomach woes, "kid-friendly" fun that is anything but, obnoxious guests eager to poach on the family's cabana and such frightening "locals" as huge spiders and tiny box jellyfish.
Snow Scene by Richard Jackson, pictures by Laura Vaccaro Seeger; Neal Porter Book/Roaring Brook Press, $17.99
The poetry of this simple nature guessing game in the snowy outdoors is a thing of beauty thanks to the dazzling paintings by the extremely talented Laura Vaccaro Seeger (illustrator of Caldecott Honor books and author illustrator of "I Used to Be Afraid").