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Rose Under Fire

I just got back from Celia Forester’s funeral. I’m supposed to be writing up an official report for the Tempest she flew into the ground, since she’s obviously not going to write it herself and I saw it happen.

“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: a once glamorous French novelist whose Jewish husband and three young sons have been killed, a resilient young Polish girl who has been used as a human guinea pig by Nazi doctors, and a female fighter pilot and military ace for the Soviet air force. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?”

I’ve been waiting so long and have been so excited for Rose Under Fire, the companion to the brilliant Code Name Verity. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my hands on an ARC, but the book finally came out September 10th. Like Code Name VerityRose Under Fire takes a little while to actually get into, before it becomes the amazing, touching, heartbreaking book I knew it would be. As other reviewers have said, Rose Under Fire is less emotionally intense and less intense in general than Code Name Verity, but it’s still a great book, and might be a better one depending on what your preferences are. Oddly enough, I didn’t cry during Code Name Verity, or Rose Under Fire for that matter, but to me, Rose Under Fire felt much more close, more real, perhaps because before Rose is captured there are lots of descriptions of daily life and that makes her experiences in the concentration camp all the more awful in comparison. Still, I felt very emotionally wrought and rung out after reading both of these books. They’re the kind of books where you need to read something light right afterwards to recover.

Rose Justice is an interesting and good new character. I’m glad that we got to meet an amazing new narrator, who I really fell in love with. That said, I didn’t love most of the poems that were in the book, though a few of them were pretty good. It was a nice idea, but it didn’t work very well for me; I’m not exactly sure why.

There were lots of excellent anecdotes in Rose Under Fire; maybe it was less sensational, but in some ways that made it a better read. I really enjoyed a lot of the descriptions, and it was a lot of the small things that Rose writes about that really got me, that hit me, and made me feel like crying or laughing or both. The very first one was Rose’s description of the barrage balloons: “I can’t get over how beautiful the barrage balloons are. I can’t even talk about it to anyone – they all think I am crazy. But when you’re in the air, and the sky above you is a sea of gray mist and the land below you is all green, the silver balloons float in between like a school of shining silver whales, bobbing a little in the wind. They are as big as buses, and I and every other pilot have a healthy fear of them because their tethering cables are loaded with explosives to try to snarl up enemy aircraft. But they are just magical from above, great big silver bubbles filling the sky. Incredible. It is just incredible that you can notice something like that when your face is so cold you can’t feel it anymore, and you know perfectly well you are surrounded by death, and the only way to stay alive is to endure the howling wind and hold your course. And still the sky is beautiful.” I loved those two paragraphs. I also loved the scene where Maddie and Rose confront the boys who are trying to take apart the bomb.

I mentioned the little things that hit me really hard. One of those was just a candlewick bedspread. Here’s part of the passage: “It was the stupid candlewick bedspread’s fault! Mrs. Hatch’s bedspreads feel the same as the ones Mother has out on the sleeping porch. Anyway, I had the candlewick on my bed pulled up to my chin last night, and after I thought about the house party, I started thinking about the sleeping porch…I got so homesick I began to cry. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the sleeping porch. It’s funny what sets you off. You miss people the most – really it is Polly and Alice and Sandy and Fran whom I am lonely for – but it is the candlewick bedspread that makes me ache with longing to be home.”

There was also another really poignant small moment, when Rose is first captured by the Germans: “Someone came in and gave me a cup of fake coffee and something a lot like a bologna sandwich, which I would have eaten if I had realized it was the last bologna sandwich I was ever going to see. But I just couldn’t eat. I have dreams about that sandwich.” That was so awful, as well as being a great piece of foreshadowing.

Wein also includes some good descriptions of the war itself. “They’ve [the Germans] lost. They must know they’ve lost – that they’re on the run. It’s all so pointless. It shouldn’t take another year. But I bet it will. It’s not desperation – there is something inhuman in it. That is what I find so creepy. Five years of destruction and mayhem, lives lost everywhere, shortages of food and fuel and clothing — and the insane mind behind it just urges us all on and on to more destruction. And we all keep playing.” It was very chilling.

I had tons of passages marked in the book, but I can’t spout all the of the amazing quotes in Rose Under Fire; it would just take too long. It was somehow more emotional to me, not necessarily better, but more relatable. Both of these books are definitely among my favorites. Just like Code Name Verity, there are great female friendships in Rose Under Fire: between Maddie and Rose before Rose is captured, and between the woman suffering in the concentration camp. Really, just as many awful things happen in Rose Under Fire as in Code Name Verity: torture and worse. It’s just, I suppose, a more quiet book. And the ending is happier, at least in some ways.

I loved that Rose was an American; it was a different take and one that makes sense. I enjoyed reading from her perspective a lot; she can kind of look at England and Germany with an impartial eye, but she cares just as deeply about the war and about flying. She narrates the story of her experiences in the camp from after she’s rescued, so we know she doesn’t die. But she’s been deeply scarred, inwardly and outwardly.

Elizabeth Wein’s writing style is so distinctive and easily recognizable, and yet I can’t quite put my finger down on what it is that makes her writing her’s and makes it so deeply moving. Any ideas? Like in Code Name Verity, the book is narrated through personal writings and some letters, although the set-up is different, and it’s not as ingeniously plotted or thriller-like. Because, you know, Code Name Verity had that whole mystery which took your breath away, which is a whole level of complexity that Rose Under Fire didn’t really have. Still, I just freaking loved it.

The book has some great similes and metaphors, such as in the passage about the barrage balloons. The writing is just beautiful, and it captured this amazing story. I would highly, highly recommend Rose Under Fire, whether or not you’ve read Code Name Verity (although it will spoil the ending of CNV).

346 pages.

Rating: *****

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