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Article  •  31 October 2022

 

Two brave teenagers served as real-life inspiration for this moving novel

We caught up with Liza Wiemer to learn about the inspiration behind her thought-provoking children’s novel, The Assignment.

As a YA author with twenty years of teaching experience under her belt, Liza Wiemer is used to speaking to large groups of students. She often attends events and workshops aimed at educating young writers, and it’s not uncommon for her to speak at schools and libraries about her novels.

On April 4, 2017, Liza planned to do exactly that. She was going to the River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, New York to talk about her new book, Hello?.

Little was Liza aware, but fate had something else in store. Serendipity was leading her to some unlikely inspiration for her latest book, The Assignment.

The Assignment by Liza Wiemer book cover.

As she drove to Oswego, the author couldn’t help but wonder why the talk was so far away from her home base in Syracuse. Surely, there was a closer bookstore where the event could have been held. With a storm brewing outside, Liza was beginning to question whether the hour-long drive would be worth it. By the time she stopped for a coffee, the heavens had opened and rain was pounding down. She took shelter in her car and began to scroll through Facebook while waiting for the weather to improve. As she scanned her newsfeed, one article immediately caught her attention.

It spoke of a high school assignment that asked students to pretend that they were one of the fifteen Nazi leaders attending the Wannsee Conference to discuss the Final Solution of the Jewish question. The students either had to argue for exterminating Jews or for sterilization, work camps and ghettos. As luck would have it, the high school in question was in Oswego – the town where Liza was about to give her talk. Though she was disheartened to hear about the assignment, she was incredibly impressed by two students who stood up to the administration and refused to participate.

For the remainder of the drive, the story of those students reverberated through Liza’s mind. She remembers thinking ‘wow, these teens are so brave.’ Liza admired the bravery that it must have taken for them to stand up to their teacher, an authority figure, to call out what they believed was wrong. When she finally arrived at the bookstore, the author was shocked to see one of the students who had stood up against the assignment in the crowd.

Author Liza Wiemer stands on the left wearing a black shirt, Jordan April is on the right, wearing a white shirt with their arm around Liza.
Liza with one of the students who inspired The Assignment.

After her talk, she arranged a phone call, and that night Liza had a three-way call with the two teens she had read about. ‘That’s what launched this journey, and now it’s become an international seller,’ she says.

To say that the book has had an impact would be an understatement. Since its 2020 release, The Assignment has collected a long list of accolades. In addition to winning several awards, the book has made its way into many school curriculums and recommended reading lists worldwide.

But aside from all the praise for the book, what matters most to Liza is the way that it has impacted readers. Not just for children, the book has been influencing how people of all ages think and act – and it’s gained a few unlikely fans. ‘A 71-year-old man told me it was the first book he’s ever read,’ says Liza. She couldn’t be more grateful for the warm reception that the book has received, and she hopes it can inspire people to speak up against hatred, bigotry, and injustice.

More than anything, she hopes the book can show readers what it looks like to be truly courageous. ‘Anyone who says “snitches get stitches” is cowardly,’ she explains, ‘if someone says that, they know they did something wrong and they are trying to intimidate someone who has done something right.’

‘Even when you’ve done something wrong,’ says Liza, ‘you need to have the courage to stand up and admit it.’

 

Learn more about The Assignment here

Feature Title

The Assignment
Inspired by a real-life incident, this riveting novel explores the dangerous impact discrimination and antisemitism have on one community when a school assignment goes terribly wrong.
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