May 19, 2013

Review: Rose Under Fire

By: Elizabeth Wein
Published: September 10th 2013 by Disney-Hyperion [June 2013 for UK]
Format: Hardback, 368 pages
Buy: Barnes & Noble//Books-A-Million//Amazon//Book Depository
Add it on Goodreads

I will tell the world.

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.

Rating: 5/5

Thank you, Netgalley! Thank you, thank you, thank you. You're the best ever (after Elizabeth Wein, of course).

If you haven't already read my review of Code Name Verity, here's how big of a fan I am: After getting two brand new books yesterday, four tote bags worth of ARCs and other great YA books at the RT Book Convention on the 5th of May, and after lining up at least five OH MY GOD, I NEED TO READ THIS NOW books, I shoved them all aside to inhale Wein's new book. Ignoring the fact that I already have this pre-ordered.

Yep, you could say Wein is one of my all-time favorites and I could not wait to dive into this.

Like with Verity, I'm still sitting here a couple hours after reading the afterword with chunks of I don't know what these feelings are scattered all over my body, a huge one in my chest and an even bigger one in my stomach. Not every holocaust book leaves me feeling this way. Of course I'll feel with any holocaust book because of the history (I tear up just thinking about it), but these feelings run so much deeper, as though I just read a memoir instead of a fictional story. With some other books, I can read it, finish, and then I'll weep about the fact that it happened to someone, somewhere. More than one. Thousands. But with this book, these characters felt so real, so incredibly real, that I'm still trying to convince myself that they're not. That's how much research went into this. That's how incredible Wein is at creating characters. Creating people.

In the beginning, it took just a bit to get into and I wasn't entirely sure how much I liked Rose. I liked her, but I found myself comparing her narrative writing a bit too much to Verity's, but after I stopped doing that, I found the beauty in hers as well. I loved her poet dreams and her realistic, ignorant American mind (though sometimes I think Wein slipped in some British phrasing/words that I don't think an American would have said, but that's beside the point). She was a simple young woman, who longed for what most young women wanted, who wanted to look nice for her boyfriend, who enjoyed eating Hershey's chocolate bars, who just so happened to be a ATA pilot. It was a shock to see the shift in her, when her writing abruptly ends once she's in France and begins again with an entirely knew person writing. New, but still Rose. Still the same handwriting.

Beware, for some of you this might be a very long read. It is, really, but for me I was so engrossed in Rose's story, so numb even, that I couldn't put it down. I had to keep reading. I had to find out what happened to her, what happened to the others she left behind, what was happening to her then, what was going to happen. While sometimes I forgot Rose was actually writing in her notebook about her experiences (not a huge deal to me, but it may be for some), I still felt her pain, her fear, her weakness through the pages.

Her experiences at the camp was just...I don't know how to explain my thoughts here. I've read many of holocaust books and few have given me this type of feeling or insight to what it was really like. A different part of the camps, with the Rabbits. The ones who were experimented on, with muscle and bone taken right out of their legs. Wein tells us in the afterword about how Rose wouldn't have seen the kitchens, or inside the gas chambers, or the men's section, or so, so much of the camps, that nobody would have, and I appreciated the fact that she didn't try to show us everything. She left it realistic, to what one person in a camp for six months would have seen. I think that made her relationships with her fellow prisoners--her new family--more intimate. Not to mention, she made their communication realistic as well, with all their different languages. Polish and Russian and French and German and English and Czech.

There's so much about this book I could gush about, but not much without telling too much of the story. I will say, during Part 2 (the camp), I was numb. I didn't cry, I didn't have to put the book down. I. Was. Numb. Then Part 3 rolled around, with the trials and seeing these characters so different and shock. Broken and lost, still terrified and controlled. And I just started bawling. I bawled for at least 30-40 pages. For a moment, it felt like all that had happened to Rose and the Rabbits happened to me. It's silly to think for a second that I could ever feel what someone who survived the holocaust felt, but something hit me hard. I felt like Wein really, really threw me into Rose's head, almost as though I were writing it myself, and there are very few books to make me feel like that.

I don't know what else to say other than this isn't your average holocaust book. For those of you who are thinking this is just another holocaust book, I suggest you reconsider picking this up. I guarantee you'll find a lot more in it than just "a holocaust book." You'll learn and you'll feel, you'll cry and you'll cheer, you'll love and you'll hate, even at the same time for the same person. This is a story I'll be sharing with my friends and my family and other readers, and the truth behind the fictional story too. I'll help tell the world. Will you?

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