Unlike most of you, I couldn’t finish Rose Under Fire in a day or even a week. It took me months to read it, thanks to an unfortunate incident involving Jen’s temporary ownership of an ARC on a busy weekend for me, which meant I got to read the first half of the book in June but couldn’t finish the rest until it was published in early September. Needless to say, I barreled through the end as soon as I got my copy. Maybe that will teach me to resist future ARC temptations. Or not.
Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to Code Name Verity. You don’t need to read Verity to understand it, but it helps, since some of the same characters appear, and there are a lot of (seriously depressing) references to Julie’s fate. Bonus: I correctly predicted that Anna Engel would show up long before the book was published. I just didn’t expect her to play as large a role as she did.
Plot: Nineteen-year-old Rose Moyer Justice is an American pilot flying Allied planes in England. She joined the Air Transport Auxiliary because she wants to be useful, but England is a harsh change from her idyllic childhood in Pennsylvania. While Rose was eating pink-frosted birthday cakes and writing poetry at school, girls her age in Europe were delivering bombs and joining the Resistance. Rose befriends some of these women when she ends up at the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and their friendship literally saves Rose’s life.
Those friends–Roza and Irina and Karolina and Elodie–felt as real as Julie and Maddie, even though they had far fewer pages to tell their stories. The grind of daily life lacks the glamor and mystery of Code Name Verity, but that doesn’t make Rose and her friends any less brave. Their small acts of defiance, from messing up the roll call to composing poems in the dark, are as exhilarating as any covert operation, and probably more dangerous, since the guards don’t see them as individuals, just numbers to be counted. And even though Rose is writing in her journal so you know early on who survives and who doesn’t, every flashback feels like it’s happening in real time, and I panicked along with the characters. In one scene–when the guards had Rose and Irina and the Rabbits trapped against the fence–I nearly threw the book across the room because I couldn’t cope with the suspense.
My one nitpick? The heavy-handed foreshadowing of taran. Rose spends so much time discussing how to tip a doodlebug out of the air that when she finally did it, I wasn’t surprised at all. In fact, I expected at least one more use of taran, and was disappointed when it didn’t happen. On the other hand, the foreshadowing of what’s being made in the Siemens factory was perfect (sidenote: is anyone else surprised by the pilotless doodlebugs? They had drones in WWII?!)
Rose Under Fire is marketed as a tale of survival and hope under dire circumstances. That only tells half the story, since so much of the book is about what happens after Ravensbruck. How does Rose deal with survivor’s guilt? How can she lead a normal life? And how can she fulfill her promise to the other prisoners–to tell the world–when she can’t even open up to her family? I know some people were disappointed that Rose is writing about the events after they’ve happened, but isn’t that the point? Rose’s story would be much less interesting if it ended with her escape. What makes the book different from many other books in similar settings is the focus on Rose trying to reclaim her life. I love that she becomes a doctor, because it shows her moving on, even as she maintains her interest in poetry. And speaking of poetry, the book has given me a dose of the Code Name Verity Effect. I have a sudden urge to read Edna St. Vincent Millay, preferably while eating Anna’s coveted Boston creme pie.