Thursday, October 31, 2013

Review: Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire
By Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion September 2013
360 pages
From the library

Rose Under Fire

Rose Justice is a pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary. She is an 18 year old American who is proud to be transporting planes for the British. She is captured by the Nazis and transported to Ravensbruck. Her parents and friends anxiously wait, not knowing if she is alive or where she might be. Rose finds friends in the worst of circumstances and together, a ragtag group of survivors cobble together a family and just maybe, a way to escape. 

This book focuses specifically on the treatment of prisoners at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. While there is some discussion of pilots during WWII, there is not as much as in the companion novel Code Name Verity. Rose and her companions are forced to do various types of work - making bombs, repairing buildings, transporting bodies. They are tortured for the tiniest infractions. The randomness of punishments and executions give these characters and the reader a deep sense of dread. The most horrifying parts of the book deal with the medical experiments conducted on the prisoners at the camp. Prisoners known as "rabbits" were used as doctor simulated battlefield injuries. Their bones were broken, limbs were amputated, and they were injected with gangrene and other infections.

The focus of these girls is on getting their stories out into the world. They know that it is unlikely that they will all make it out alive. They work to memorize the names of all of the girls they are imprisoned with, so that the one who makes it to freedom can tell of the atrocities that were committed. Rose remembers the names through a poem. Her love of poetry brings comfort to her friends, as she recites favorites and creates new poems about her friends. As a plot device, Rose's passion for poetry is important but I found myself often skimming her poems in order to get back to the action of the story.

*Minor Spoilers in this Paragraph* There is somewhat of a lack of tension in Rose Under Fire. We know from early in the book that she will make it out of the camp. This isn't detrimental, though. It allows the reader to focus on the horrors that the women at the camp experience. It also gives Wein the ability to look at the effects of living through this kind of trauma. Rose doesn't know what to do when she finds herself back in the real world. She doesn't know how to make decisions, as she has been ordered around for so long. She has no idea how to fill a day without backbreaking work assignments or standing out in the rain for a three hour role call.

Elizabeth Wein is making a name for herself as an author who reminds us of the tragedy of the Second World War and the humanity that connects us, regardless of the time in which we live. Her characters are fictional, but their fully realized lives are a fitting tribute to the real people who lived through these horrors.  Rose Under Fire is the perfect companion to Code Name Verity. 

You can also read my review of Code Name Verity here. 


  1. I actually think this sounds better than Code Name Verity, which I didn't love as much as I was hoping to. There was too much in it about being a pilot for me.

    1. Rose being a pilot obviously is a part of the plot, but there is a lot less time spent learning the lingo of flying. I hope you enjoy it if you pick it up!