Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 20, 2013
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: WWII, Europe, friendship, concentration camps
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)
Summary: An idealistic young pilot from Pennsylvania is capture by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp, Ravensbruck.
I needed a lot of nudging to read Code Name Verity. Historical fiction scares me. I’m afraid I won’t be able to grasp all the facts, and the story will not be as meaningful to me. Combine that with a book that received such praise and I think any reader would be intimidated. Honestly, it took a good amount of trudging through to get to the heart of CNV. But I feel like the effort was worth it. Wein wrote a beautiful story of friendship and bravery against a backdrop of total despair and bleakness.
But despite my own personal victory of finally reading CNV, I was still apprehensive to start Rose Under Fire. Because all of the people I trust the most when it comes to books say they liked this one even better! The pressure! So basically I waited until the very last minute to start RUF. (True story: I finished it 2 hours before it would expire on my Nook.)
First things first, it was much easier for me to ease into Rose Under Fire. Even though the main character was a bit naive and a little pampered, I really liked Rose. She was very upbeat; she loved to write poetry. (Her boyfriend, Nick, said she had the look of Katherine Hepburn and the skill of Amelia Earhart. I loved that.) She also loved to pilot planes. Even though the war was still going on and terrible things were happening to innocent people, Rose almost made me forget it.
And then I couldn’t anymore. Rose is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbruck — a concentration camp. Instead of reading about this horrific experience in real time, Wein lets us know that our Rose does survive her time at Ravensbruck. While she is physically alive, the psychological effects are enormous and the knowledge of Rose making it out? It doesn’t make her relaying of the events any less painful, any less brutal.
The bright lights in this story are really the other courageous women that Rose comes in contact with. Such different walks of life, trying to remain under the radar in the camp so they can get out and speak loudly of the abuse they experienced. Amongst the women is a group dubbed “The Rabbits” who are medically operated on with a mission to find “cures” for German soldiers who are injured during the war. (Can you say bullshit?) One of the Rabbits is Roza — a girl that Rose very much bonds with in her months at Ravensbruck. She curses like a sailor, protects her friends, and demands the girls memorize the list of the Rabbits so they can inform the world when they get out.
These quick-thinking, sometimes maternal, always kick ass, selfless ladies were a highlight in my reading of Rose Under Fire. I was constantly awed by their actions, and the little ways they brought hope to one another and helped to lift each other up when things got even tougher. (Their Christmas together made me feel warm and ache at the same time.) Some of the friendships are fleeting, but, even so, the effects of the bond are felt long after their time in Ravensbruck is up.
It’s still really difficult for me to sit here and tell you to read a book about concentration camps. People keep asking me if it was good. And the writing, the obvious intricate research, and the relationships here were undoubtably impressive. But the rest of it was just so tough. Wein’s work is wonderful and deserves all the high praise but, as a reader, you really have to be in the right mindset to swallow a book like this.
Even if I never read Code Name Verity or Rose Under Fire again, they will both remain memorable and worthwhile reading experiences for me. While I connected with Rose faster, it’s very hard to choose which is better between the two. There is so much to appreciate about both of them. I’m so curious to see what Wein will give us next.
And those of you Maddie fans from CNV, it was so nice to see her in Rose Under Fire. So comforting to have a built-in friend so early on.