Release Date: September 10, 2013
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?
Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival. (courtesy of Goodreads.)
Rose Under Fire starts off in a difficult position. Elizabeth Wein's previous novel Code Name Verity received astronomical levels of praise. Hard to follow that. Also, Rose Under Fire deals with the Holocaust. Always a difficult topic because of its horrific nature, but also because there are so many Holocaust novels that it's hard to write anything new.
Thankfully, Rose Under Fire is a strong follow-up to Code Name Verity and sets itself apart from the myriad of Holocaust novels. The book is told in an epistolary style somewhat similar to Code Name Verity, although actually quite different. It goes back and forth between time. We learn very early on that Rose survives the War. We read about her life before being captured by the Nazis, her imprisonment at Ravensbruck, and the mental and physical scars that remain with her after the War.
Rose is a plucky girl as an American pilot flying out of England. She is daring and gutsy, as any volunteer pilots in that day would be. But she also feels very young. She is forced to grow up very quickly when imprisoned in Ravensbruck. She continues to be brave and defiant towards her captors. But what made her character feel more real was that she wasn't always the brave, cheerful one. She relied on other people as much as they relied on her.
The heart of this book is about the relationships that Rose develops at Ravensbruck with a group of Polish political prisoners. They lived to help each other survive. They became closer than family. Supporting the weak. Finding opportunities to bring a smile or a laugh to maintain their sanity. The friendship is such a central part of the book that it was possible to forget for a few moments that the events were taking place in a concentration camp and merely find happiness in such a beautiful relationship (well, not really, but it was the part of the book that stuck with me the most).
None of the horrors of the concentration camp is spared. There is constant cruelty, illness, and risk of death. The book also goes into detail about the medical experiments performed on Polish prisoners, known as Rabbits, something I was aware of but hadn't read about in a novel before. Much like Code Name Verity, there are "bad" people portrayed as three-dimensional characters. Anna, one of the prison guards who helped with the medical experiments, was a prisoner herself and was a significant reason that Rose survived.
Rose Under Fire is a very difficult read as all Holocaust books are. I like that the horrors are dealt with in a no-hands-barred manner. But at the same time, I never felt like anything was played up for shock value or to screw with my emotions. It was all very straight forward.
Rose Under Fire is a beautiful, touching, heart-rending novel. If it wasn't for Code Name Verity, I would have thought it was a perfect book. Code Name Verity is one of the best books I've ever read. It is so unusual, so shocking that it set an impossibly high bar. Rose Under Fire is wonderful, but it didn't stick with me in the same way that Code Name Verity did. All in all though, if a book comes close to being as good as a near perfect novel, it's done pretty well for itself.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
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