“Hope is treacherous, but how can you live without it?”
– location 2418 in Kindle ARC of Rose Under Fire
It’s hard to start a review of a book that’s precious to you. One wrong phrase and you can totally muck up just what you are trying to convey about why everyone needs to drop their schedules and read said book. So, instead of starting this review of Rose Under Fire, the companion novel to Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein in the usual way, I choose to start with a quote – one that I think perfectly encapsulates the themes and feelings within Rose Under Fire. Remember the heavy, can’t breathe feelings from Code Name Verity? Wein does it again with Rose Under Fire, a tour de force if ever there was one. The thing Wein keeps doing is winning my heart with her realistic main characters and the extraordinary courage they exhibit.
Similar to Code Name Verity, the plot of Rose Under Fire involves female pilots during World War II and being captured behind enemy lines. There are strong friendships and courage that roars. Yet, this is where the similarities end. Rose Justice, main character, is an American ATA pilot whose parents own an airfield in Pennsylvania. She has come to Great Britain to help and has struck up a friendship with a pilot we all know and love named Maddie Brodatt. Rose Under Fire takes place towards the end of the war. It’s at the point where the Nazis no longer occupy Paris and they know they are losing, but there’s still that last push. Anyways, Rose is tasked with flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England. This is pretty routine and should not be a huge deal.
Unfortunately, her plane is shot down by Nazis. She ends up in Ravensbrück, a prison camp for women. As you can imagine, the experience is horrific and she does not receive special treatment because she is American — a fact that struck me the most as for some odd reason, I just figured Americans get special treatment. Interspersed with Rose’s story of her time at camp, is the present timeline, or rather, the post-War Nuremburg trial timeline. What results is a complex and evocative read, eliciting anxiety even though you know that Rose will survive based upon her narration at the trials. Unlike Code Name Verity, there is no big part two twist. Rather, what you see is what you get.
“You always think you’re immortal, don’t you? I mean, it hasn’t happened yet. I am still alive.”
The thing about Rose Justice, besides her fantastic name is just that she is so damned American. She is incredibly different from Queenie in Code Name Verity which is probably the first thing I picked up on while reading this companion novel. I think that is great thing as I do not like it when authors keep telling the same plot over and over. Instead, Rose is a girl who has levity. She’s freewheeling and spirited. She’s not nearly as reserved as Queenie. So, when she is forced into the prison camp, you can feel her spirit start to break down. You can see a marked difference. Yet, Rose is more than just a silly American girl. She’s also a poet. We get to read her poems throughout Rose Under Fire and they are actually quite good and encapsulate what I would image she would be feeling at the time (which obviously it should, but still sometimes poetry doesn’t work — in this case it does). Rose is someone you just want to root for and want to help through her trauma as she’s what I would consider a bright light kind of girl.
“But people need lift, too. People don’t get moving, they don’t soar, they don’t achieve great heights, without something buoying them up.”
When I was in college, I took a History Of The Holocaust class as I wanted to learn more about why such atrocities happen. I will never forget when the professor asked us what exactly those who survived had in common. People tossed out all kinds of factors, but in the end it really came down to luck. I mean, the fucking Nazis would kill people for no rhyme or reason — sometimes because a person is in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, when I read stories like Rose Under Fire I pay attention to the luck in her tragic circumstances that allow her to live through such a terrible, terrible ordeal.
I also have paid attention to one element of the story — the Rabbits. In the book, the Rabbits are these girls and women who have been medically experimented on by having their bone marrow drained and more. Many can barely walk, but the prisoners of the camp protect them and want them to live so that they may tell their story. For that same class I mention, we had to write one term paper – the majority of your grade depended on it. I did mine of Mengele and his horrific experiments on twins. So, I thought that it was good that Rose Under Fire included something about people who are victims of the Nazi medical experiments as I don’t know that enough people are educated on that dark portion of history.
“‘You really are the world’s worst pain in the neck,’ I complained. But my heart ached for her bravery.”
Rose Under Fire pulses with hope. It pulses with friendship. It shows that there is light even in some very, very dark places. I would say it’s one of those books that truly shows the triumph of the human spirit, cliche as that makes me sound — because even when the circumstances are terrible, people still manage to love and to hope and to be good. When I think of the beautiful ending that Rose Under Fire has, I realize that all the anxiety and uncomfortable feelings reading were worth it.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.