Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein

Rose Under Fireomg, Rose Under Fire. omg, omg.

So I read this amazing book last year called Code Name Verity that could probably have literally knocked my socks off had I been wearing socks while reading it. It was fascinating and horrifying and tricksy and I loved it to pieces and right after I read it this quasi-sequel came out and I was like, oh, I’m totally going to read that. And finally, I did.

Part 1 of the book is pretty decent, with more awesome lady pilots being awesome and piloting, and our diary-writing hero this time is an American ferry pilot in the RAF called Rose Justice, which, fine, whatever, it lends itself to some good wordplay, I guess. Anyway, the war is reaching its peak in 1944 and there’s lots of flying to do, and Rose gets some good flights due to nepotism and finds herself in Paris, which she thinks is pretty sweet. She writes some seemingly innocuous words while there — “I hope I don’t forget [this journal] tomorrow morning” — and then my lunch break ends and I go back to work, looking forward to more flying adventures.

And then I get back to the book later and Rose has gone MIA! Nooooo! There are letters between her friend and her family and clearly things have gone horribly wrong! And then the diary picks up again, six months later, and Rose is writing about her ghastly stay in Ravensbrück.

And, okay, truth time, I almost stopped reading this book right there, because I’ve read a lot of World War II/Holocaust literature and I know from concentration camps, right? I loved Verity in part because there were no horrible death camps and I got to learn something new. So I was like, really, Elizabeth Wein, you can’t do better than that?

But of course she proved me wrong, again, perpetually. I certainly learned something new here, something that I fervently wish weren’t true: that there was a whole transport of Polish women who had bones removed and infections purposefully injected into them so that the Nazi doctors could simulate war injuries and figure out how to fix them. Spoiler: there wasn’t much fixing going on.

These so-called Rabbits and their plight are a big part of the story, but of course the real story is about Rose and her friendships with the other women in the camp, whether they were Rabbits or Russians or even Germans. Wein does a great job of making everyone fairly sympathetic; everyone just wants to survive, and the lengths they go to to do so are more of those new things I learned that I wish I couldn’t have.

In addition to writing her diary, it turns out that Rose is a pretty decent poet, so there are little poems sprinkled throughout the diary text. I’m not much for poetry, so I wasn’t thrilled about them at the beginning, but the ones written as part of the concentration camp section of the book are surprisingly gut-wrenching. One in particular, called “Lisette Waits”, had me tearing up even before things got really bad for everyone.

It’s a depressing book, for sure, but nearly as amazingly so as Code Name Verity. If you have plans to read Verity, definitely do that before reading Rose or you will be super spoiled. If you don’t have plans to read Verity, I do not know what is wrong with you.

Recommendation: Read Code Name Verity. Read this when you need another dose of Elizabeth Wein goodness.

Rating: 9/10

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak (1 March — 5 March)

-sniffle- I really wasn’t sure about this book. I’d heard good things, but when I picked it up and started reading I was a bit put off by Death’s narrative style. Yes, Death is the narrator. Of a Holocaust book. Oh, joy. And Death spouts off about colors for a chapter, and it’s symbolic, sort of, but it didn’t make a lot of sense while reading it. Death also cuts in all the time with weird, bolded pronouncements like

* * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *
You are going to die

That’s on the first page. I was a bit concerned. But then, as I read some more, I got used to the intrusions and even started to appreciate them. That fact seems almost appropriate to this book.

Anyway, I said the book was about the Holocaust, but it’s not, really. It’s about a young German girl who is sent to live with a foster family during Hitler’s reign, and how she grows up amid the tumult. She makes friends, she gets into fights, she steals some books (obviously), she helps hide a Jew, and she generally becomes a fine young woman. Of course, bad things happen all over the place. To paraphrase Death, an admission: I cried for the last 50 pages. It’s not a happy book, and it took a bit to really pull me in, but it is a very very good book and you should read it.

Rating: 9/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Australia)

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne (18 December)

Well. Hmm. I was home sick yesterday and watched about 12 episodes of How I Met Your Mother (awesome show, btw) instead of starting this book. I felt silly at the time (I haven’t spent so much time watching TV since I had finals to procrastinate!), but I think I’m pretty glad I didn’t read this until I felt less like vomiting.

Note: John Boyne (the author) thinks that books should be read without knowing what’s going to happen in them. In the case of this book, I would agree. If you’re planning to read this with or without my notes, please go do that now. It won’t take long.

This is a very short book (200 pages of large type, YA reading level, took me 3-ish hours to read), so I can’t say much about it without giving away the whole darn thing, but here’s a synopsis: our protagonist, Bruno, moves to a place called “Out-With” in 1943 as his father, a newly promoted commandant, has been assigned to a new job there. He’s not terribly pleased at leaving Berlin, but learns to get along in his new home with only three floors and not five, especially after he goes on a walk along the fence by his house and discovers a new friend called Shmuel, who wears striped pyjamas* like the rest of the people on his side of the fence. Then the climax happens and the book is over.

When I heard about this book, I didn’t realize it was YA (and apparently young YA, at that), so I guess I was expecting a little bit better characterization and plot — the characters are very flat and the plot saves itself all up until the end — but I did rather enjoy it nonetheless. I also would like to see the movie (is it out yet/still?), because I think that might help me out a bit — the author also doesn’t do much with descriptions, though I think there might be a point hidden in there about all of us being the same. Subtle.

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2006)

*So this book is totally supposed to be called The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but for some reason (the fact that it’s YA?) it’s been Americanized to “pajamas.” Strangely enough, the word “tyre” appears several times, and two instances of “pyjamas” are left unchanged. Is that “y” so difficult?