Today is the UK release date of Elizabeth Wein’s new book, Rose Under Fire, a companion to Code Name Verity (link goes to my review). If you’ve been around here at all for the past year, you have probably discovered that I’m a huge fan of CNV. More than that I’m a huge fan of all Elizabeth Wein’s books, and have been ever since I discovered her through a recommendation at Sounis. So when I found out that Rose was coming out in June in the UK, and September in the US, I promptly ordered a copy of both editions. And then I was lucky enough to read it through NetGalley*.
I suspect that many reviews of Rose will focus on the differences between this book and CNV. And that’s fine–they are definitely there, and significant. For instance, the plot of Rose is not nearly as twisty as Verity; in some ways the book is much more straightforward. But I really want to talk about some of the similarities I can see.
First, these are both books that I really wanted to avoid spoiling. For different reasons, sure, but I don’t even want to say exactly who from CNV you see in Rose. I believe the fact that Maddie is there is public knowledge so, yes, Maddie is there, and Maddie and wonderful. (I just started crying over Maddie.) But I’m not going to tell you anything else! And while you could find certain pertinent details if you dug around on the internet, I’m not going to tell you the plot either. Because this book is so much more than any plot summary could convey.
You see, just like CNV, this is a book about female friends who survive incredibly difficult circumstances because of each other. No one ever says the phrase ‘sensational team’ and it’s not even exactly right for this story, for these circumstances. There is no chance of glory, no great game, only a struggle for survival and sanity. But make no mistake: the bond between Julie and Maddie is here too, in some ways all the stronger because it is quieter and grows in more imperceptible ways. At one point, Rose calls the women she knows her “more than sisters” and over the course of the book we begin to see how that has happened.
But there’s another thread running through both books, which is that of bravery, and fear in the face of impossible situations. Of course, what is the first line of Code Name Verity? “I am a COWARD,” which then proves again and again to be false. Like the thread of friendship, this is perhaps quieter in Rose Under Fire, but no less incredible. II don’t even know how to describe it; it has a quality that I recognize from the Soviet prison memoirs I’ve read. All I know is that they are all so brave, humblingly so, in a way that involves but is not limited to physical courage.
Also like CNV, though even more so, is the sense of reality. When I read either of these books, I completely believe in them; I forget that this is fiction. And in Rose Under Fire, this is even worse because some of these people are not fictional. The things that happen at Ravensbruck actually happened. The Rabbits are real (here is a picture of them in California after the war). The camp is still there, cell blocks and all.
And so, for me, there is this kind of burning rage and sorrow, and also a wordlessness. How can I speak–how can I review this book? I can only hold it out and say, “Read this. Tell the world.” And at the same time, if the story were not so well told, I couldn’t have that reaction.
The truth is, I don’t know how other readers will react to this book. The ones who disliked the flying bits in CNV will be faced with more flying bits. The ones who thought CNV was too full of coincidences to be plausible will be faced with more coincidences. The twistiness of CNV, the spy thriller aspect, is not here. On the other hand, the bravery, the complexity of the characters, the brilliant descriptions of flying–those are all present. And I suspect that the readers who love this book will love it fiercely.
As for me, I was in tears most of the time I was reading. There’s not a “Kiss Me Hardy!” moment exactly, though at one point I couldn’t see the words because I was crying so hard.** More than that, though, I resonated with Rose in a way that, much as I LOVE them, I don’t quite with Maddie or Julie. But Rose is a bookish American who loves England, with German heritage, from the Midwest. I’m don’t know that I have her courage–no, let me change that. I know I don’t have her courage, but I feel a connection to her, a kind of kinship.
Unlike Maddie, I think that Rose is a pilot second and a poet first. She loves flying, but it’s not who she is. And I was amazed at the poetry; unlike a lot of books that use poems as a device, I believed in that she reads it and writes it. The way other poems, especially Millay’s, are woven into the story is beautiful and right every time. And Rose’s own poems get better as the book goes on, which from a technical writing side I am simply in awe of. How do you do that?
So, in the end what I can say is that I loved it, that just like Code Name Verity, it broke my heart again and again. It’s a book that will probably stick with me the rest of my life. I am on Rose’s side, and Roza’s, and Lisette’s, and Karolina’s. And I won’t forget.
Book source: purchased (twice); NetGalley
Book information: Egmont, UK, June 2013; Disney Hyperion, US, September 2013; YA historical fiction
* Note that this has not made me any less excited to hold the actual finished book in my hands. I will always be a print girl at heart.
** “Dirge Without Music”
NOTE: I edited this review slightly because I had never been entirely happy with the original version.