Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tell the World - "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein

**This review is for an eARC version of this title**

Title: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Projected Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Recommended For Ages: 16 and up

Synopsis (from NetGalley) -

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.

My Review:
How many books - fiction and non-fiction - have there been written about World War II and the Holocaust?  How many of them have I read?  And how many of them leave me shaking and sick to my stomach? I almost wonder why I keep reading them. I'm sure I could find something more light and fluffy to enjoy.  But that would defeat the purpose, I guess.  But maybe that's why it's important to keep reading these books.

I read Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity last December during the nomination process for the Children's Literature Association of Utah's Beehive Award (Code Name Verity was nominated in the Young Adult category, in case you're interested).  That book hit me hard.  But I loved it.  So, when I saw Rose Under Fire on NetGalley, I knew I had to give it a go.

Rose Under Fire follows a similar format as Code Name Verity - it's the journal entries of Rose Justice, an American pilot during World War II who starts out as a delivery pilot for the Allies.  But she gets off course during a routine delivery and ends up as a prisoner of war in a German concentration camp.  She's the only American in the Ravensbruck camp, even though she's mislabeled as a French prisoner (clerical error - but that's the least of her problems).

The first part of the book describes Rose's day-to-day life on an Allied military base in England - it seems pretty tame.  Sure, she knows people who've been killed in the war and it's really bleak and there's not much to be happy about.  But she's safe and the Allies are well on their way to liberating Europe after the D-Day Invasion.  She writes in her journal about her friend and fellow pilot, Maddie (who readers will recognize from Code Name Verity).  Maddie gets married and things are going pretty good.

Then, suddenly the writing in the journal changes to letters talking about how Rose has been lost behind enemy lines and she's presumed dead and her family is grieving.  All within the first 25% of the book (my Kindle app doesn't have reliable page numbers - sorry).

Rose falls in with a ragtag group of women nicknamed "The Rabbits" because they were prisoners who survived the medical experiments the Nazis performed to research how best to treat war injuries and infections like gangrene.  They all look out for each other, even to the point of hiding the ones who they find out are scheduled for execution.  All the while, they hold out hope that the Allies are going to liberate their camp (the scene where they get the news that Auschwitz has been liberated is fantastic).

The entire book is lyrical, yet stark. Obviously, Rose survives to write about it later (she often refers to how she's now in a hotel in Paris recovering from her ordeal), but you're never quite sure if she really will.  She peppers her memories with poems that she wrote during her imprisonment and that poetry serves to remind you that these things happened to real people.

Rose's character voice is so real and so calming that I could almost handle the horrifying descriptions of the conditions of the camp and even the medical experiments the Rabbits were put through.  But the section of the book that got to me was the third part where Rose has to go back and testify against the Nazi officers who are on trial for crimes against humanity.  She can barely stand to hear her poems read in a university setting because it reminds her of that awful time.  It's like, she could survive actually being in the camp and fighting back against her captors, but once she's safe and people ask her about the experience after the fact, she can't do it.  That's the part that really got to me.

All through the book, the Rabbits tell Rose (they tell each other, actually) to "Tell the world."  Tell the world what happened here.  I think we see documentaries and read books about the Holocaust so much that we are kind of flippant about it, but this is one historical event that I think we shouldn't be.  When I was in eighth grade, I took a school trip to Washington D.C. and while I saw some really neat things there, two things have always stuck with me: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National Holocaust Memorial Museum.  When I read the descriptions of the camp and the medical experiments, I kept thinking of the exhibit at the Holocaust Museum that talked about the experiments they did on people there and I'm not sure if I really understood what I was seeing at the time.  Now that I'm older and I've had more time to think about it, I get it and it really shakes me up.  I don't know that I could go back and see that exhibit again, but I'm glad that I did.  As horrible and terrifying as this history is, the fact is that it's real and it happened and we need to remember it so that it never happens again.

Elizabeth Wein's books are stark and terrifying, but in a way that makes you think and remember.  It isn't sensationalized horror but honest, truthful, and jarring reality.  Both of these books - Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire - should be on the reading list along with The Diary of Anne Frank and Night because they are just that good.

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