Two unsuccessful attempts.
Third time is the charm, right?
Last year I read this book, you might've heard of it, called Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. When I was a kid and then teen, I read a lot of Holocaust books. Who knows where my fascination came from, but I still (usually) love a book about that time in history. Morbid? Probably. Well, Code Name Verity absolutely blew my mind. The plot twists, emotion and writing style were excellent and left me crying and wanting to read it again right away.
Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to CNV and had quite a bit of expectations to live up to. While not as surprising or gut-wrenching as CNV, I still gave it 5 stars on Goodreads. Why? I'll tell you.
|Image retrieved from here|
Rose Justice is an American transport pilot working in England during World War II. On her way back from a routine drop off, she gets lost over Germany and then taken to Ravensbruck, a German work camp. She quickly befriends a group of women known as the Rabbits, women who have been physically experimented on. A few of these women become her family and together they fight to survive while hoping to someday escape or be rescued from the cruelty and horrors they face every day
Let's first talk about the subject matter. It is a little surprising that Wein does not really focus on any Jewish characters; rather, there are women from Poland, Russia, Germany, and America. It was fascinating to read about the Rabbits, women who were subjected to experimentation. For example, doctors would shoot a woman in the leg and then stuff the wound and cover it in plaster. Then they would wait too see what would happen. Several women died from infection while others were left with horrible scars or holes in their legs. Gruesome.
Those bits were really difficult to read and definitely not something I would like to revisit.
What made me love this book, however, was the relationship between Rose and her Ravensbruck family. These women were full of hope even while being beaten and humiliated. They found ways to keep their identity - reciting poetry, making paper airplanes, telling stories - and they were always looking for ways to protect one another. The beauty of their love is a stark contrast to the cruelty of their situation. Wein does a masterful job of putting you in the trenches with these women so you feel cold, hungry and scared of what will come next.
The book is written in a diary-like style (similar to Verity) and I don't usually favor that style. Here, however, it is done really well and I can't imagine a different way of handling it. Rose finds a lot of healing through writing out her story and I loved being able to witness her growth from an inside perspective.
Like I said before, there are not as many "Oh my gosh I can't believe that just happened" moments as in CNV. In a way, this is a quieter novel, but I loved it. Maybe not just as much, but pretty darn close.
As an aside: why are so many young adult novels focused on topics that are tragic, depressing or gruesome? I just finished another book last night that is getting a lot of buzz called Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (Matthew Quick) and the subject matter covered was so heavy and sad. In a nutshell, it is about a boy, Leonard, who is planning to kill his friend and himself on his 18th birthday. How did he get to this point? By a lot of abuse, neglect and loneliness. While I realize that Quick touches on some subjects that are very current (how many school shootings have we had in the last 5 years?), I wonder why so many authors and readers flock to these books. Where are the funny books? Where are the books that inspire the imagination? When we cross the threshold from childhood to teenhood do we trade in the lighthearted for the reality. I know those books have a place, but I feel like the books that get the most buzz/awards are those that are heavy on the tough topics.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this too. Have you thought about it before?