Last year, I read one of the best books I’ve ever read: Code Name Verity. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who thought so: it garnered a Printz Honor among other notables.
When a sequel or companion novel comes out for a book I enjoyed as much as Code Name Verity, I almost don’t want to read it. They so seldom compare favorably or they finish the story of the main character(s) in a way I don’t like.
I’m happy to report that Rose Under Fire is every bit as good as Code Name Verity, although the two books are markedly different. Thank you, Ms. Wein, for writing books about real friendship, about real heartache, about real struggles and real history without making them too melodramatic, too saccharine, too cheap.
Rose Under Fire follows a new character (Rose) who happens to know Maddie (one of the main characters in Code Name Verity) during the year following Code Name Verity. Like Maddie and Julie from Code Name Verity, Rose is a pilot based in England during WWII (but she’s an American). Wein does a brilliant job of giving us Code Name Verity fans just enough information about the repeat characters to make us satisfied: their lives continue and continue well. And Wein introduces some wonderful new characters in the title character Rose, another “Rose,” and a few other women (including another woman pilot).
Rose ends up in a concentration camp as a prisoner of war through a flight mistake. There are a lot of things I could say about this time period in the book, but suffice it to say that Wein keeps all the grit, the pathos, the horror of that setting without letting it be too much. This is a YA book for a reason, but it is very well done. The reader gets a sense of the atrocities in a very different way than those presented in well known books for younger readers (such as Number the Stars). In fact, it is the very fact that Rose and her closest companions in the camp are not all Jewish–instead, they are French, Polish, American–prisoners of war and still subjected to the same treatment the Nazis used on the Jews they deemed less than human.
We know Rose escapes because the book is written in journal form–much of it after she escapes from the Nazis and reflects on her time in the camp. We as readers need this emotional distance, and it also makes the story more believable. Rose would never have had paper and pen (and time to write) in the camp, so it wouldn’t have been plausible to have a journal written there.
But Rose is a poet, and she composes some of her most profound poetry in the camp, memorizes it, and writes it down later. She attends the war tribunals in Nuremberg, and she is reunited with some of the key people from her time in the camp. These scenes are almost as heart-breaking as her memories of the camp itself.
All in all, the book is hopeful even though so much is hard to read. A much quieter, more contemplative book than Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is well worth reading (and discussing!). Readers of this site are no doubt familiar with The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom; one of the biggest differences between that book and Rose Under Fire is that Rose does not claim to be a Christian. The triumph of the human spirit comes through in this; the two books might make an interesting comparison study. I love what Janie said in her review of Code Name Verity: “It’s a ‘celebration of the human spirit’—ultimately meaningless without Christ, but even unbelievers can sporadically reflect God’s image, and the tragedy of spoiling it.” That is indeed what comes through in this book: all people are made in the image of God and when that image is devalued or spoiled, tragedy results. And yet, in the midst of that tragedy, there is hope.
Highly recommended for older teens (and their parents)Worldview rating: 4 (out of 5) Literary merit rating: 5 (out of 5)
Rose Under Fire will be in bookstores in early September. Thanks to the publisher via netgalley for an advance copy; cover image from netgalley.
Stay tuned for more WWII reads for younger readers; next week Janie will review two new ones for middle grades.