If you’re looking for a happy, feel-good book to read, this is not it. But read it anyway, because it’s amazing and you really need to.
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.
*This is a spoiler free review!*
You know how I mentioned that Code Name Verity (also by Elizabeth Wein) tore my heart into a million pieces and then stomped all over them? Well, Rose Under Fire did all that and more.
Be forewarned that Rose Under Fire is not a happy book. It’s sad, heavy, and downright terrifying. But I love it anyway.
First off, I feel like Rose did a much better job communicating the horrors of WWII than Verity (or, to be completely honest, any other book I’ve read about the era). Elizabeth Wein doesn’t sugarcoat things. The punishments, the starvation, the Rabbits (and no, I don’t mean the cute and fluffy kind)… It’s all horrifying. Even if Wein never described anything graphically, it was still vivid. And I think that’s important, in books about topics like this. Ravensbrück was not just a women’s concentration camp. It was a prison in which “scientific” experimentation was carried out on female POWs, sometimes just to make them suffer. The women there were also starved, beaten, and forced to regularly work throughout it all.
So, yeah. Heavy book.
But through it all, Rose forms truly touching friendships with her fellow prisoners, and this brings me to my favorite thing about Elizabeth Wein’s writing.
Speaking as someone who’s only read two of Wein’s novels, her books are truly feminist. They emphasize strong friendships between women, and discuss the difficulties that women had during the war as well. It isn’t about competition and trying to be better than the other girl, it’s about standing together and supporting each other.
And the characters. Oh, please, don’t get me started on the characters. They all come from such unique, diverse backgrounds, and although they all have their personal rivalries with each other, the horrors of Ravensbrück bring them together. They protect each other, and I love that. Roza, the brave Rabbit who was left crippled by the Nazi “scientists” but still remains passionate and fiery. Lisette, the once famous author who lost her children and turned to caring for her other prisoners to fill the hole in her heart. Irina, Rose’s fellow pilot and best friend who had been in the camps so long that her hair went white. And so many more. I felt for each of them so much, and their friendships with Rose felt so real.
Rose Under Fire was also heart stoppingly fast paced. I’ve been in a bit of a “reading blah” lately, but Rose solved that problem for me completely. I could not stop reading. For the first time in weeks, I stayed up late reading. I was completely, totally engrossed in the story.
My main complaint is that the beginning seemed a bit drawn out- the story was rather slow to start. But once I was pulled in, I realized that the slow start was necessary to show the parallels between Rose’s everyday life (and her idealistic former self) and her time in Ravensbrück.
The structure felt rather ramble-y, and didn’t transition all that well. I also found like the ending was a bit of a letdown. There was pretty limited closure, and in the end, although I can understand her difficulties with PTSD, Rose never ended up “telling the world”, even though that was the book’s tagline.
In the end, it was the middle of the book that I really loved. The beginning and end were rather forgettable, but the middle was horrifying and heartbreaking and wonderful all at once.
All in all, Rose Under Fire is a very well written book with a focus on friendships, hope, and resilience. It isn’t an easy book to read, but it’s definitely worth it. 9/10, and especially recommended for fans of Code Name Verity.