In Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein stays with a subject she knows well. Following the success of her amazing YA historical, Code Name Verity, Wein gives us Rose Justice’s story. Like the protagonists of her previous novel, Rose is a young female transport pilot in WWII, but this time, Rose is an American, providing a different perspective. The book is told somewhat retrospectively; Rose is writing down what happened to her. This detracts a little from the tension because we know she’s going to survive, but still, the horror of what she is going to have to go through unfolds in a way that never permits the pace to flag.
As the Germans retreat, Rose is able to fly closer to the front. The border is fluid. On one particular mission, Rose manages to get off track. She is intercepted by German fighters who force her to fly with them into Germany where she is captured. Rose is taken to Ravensbruck. She finds out firsthand that not only were the rumors true, but the camps are worse, much worse, than anything coming out in the reports. Rose’s innocence is stripped away, and she is left raw, desperate to survive.
The bulk of the book deals with Rose’s struggle to cope with what she is confronted with in the concentration camp and how she made it through. She records her friendships and conflicts with the women in her group, which includes some of the "rabbits," women who survived Nazi experimentation.
Like Code Name Verity, the novel is an homage to the women who played such an important part in WWII, resisting the Nazis in different capacities. This book remembers, in particular, women who were the focus of Nazi "medical" experimentation. The details of those experiments make for horrific reading. In an interesting twist, Wein also introduces us to a German woman, who, in the interest of her own survival, took part for a time in the experiments as a technician.
Wein made Rose a poet as well as a pilot. I found Rose’s poems a bit distracting and confess I ended up skipping most of them, which is bad of me, since Rose’s poetry is a big part of what kept her sane in the camp. It could be that I was so caught up in the story I wanted it to keep moving, and felt the poems slowed it down.
Rose Under Fire does not have the Wow!! factor of Code Name Verity. It’s a much more conventional historical novel–and a fairly typical-of-the-genre book about the holocaust, the difference being an American female pilot for a protagonist. But Wein is a talented writer with a gift for characterization, and the book is emotionally gripping. So while it is different in some ways from Code Name Verity, it’s similar in that it is an excellent WWII YA historical!
I'm adding this to the count for the Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.