American Rose Justice has been flying since she was 12 years old. Now, out of high school six months early, she is off to England to ferry planes for the Air Transport Auxiliary. But Rose wants to do more than just ferry planes from one place to another in England. she wants to fly into France and she has just the uncle who can pull strings for that, just as he had to get her to England and the ATA.
After flying Uncle Roger, alone in her plane, Rose spots a doodlebug, Germany's pilotless V1 bomb that can go so far and do so much damage, on its way to England So Rose decides to take up the challenge and do a little doodlebug tipping, ramming the bomb with her plane's wingtip and causing it to lose course and explode in an unoccupied area.
But chasing the bomb leads Rose into dangerous territory and next thing she knows, she is being escorted to Germany by two Luftwaffe pilots. And it doesn't take long before she finds herself in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.
There, ironically, Rose is assigned to work in the Siemens factory making fuses for the V1 bombs. But she refuses to do it and ends up in Block 32, on the third tier of a bunkbed, sleeping on a narrow wooden plank with no blanket but with three other people. Here, Rose meets the Rabbits, the girls and young women who were used for medical experiments in 1942. But the Germans are losing the war and want to cover up their atrocities. In Ravensbrück, they begin to execute the women, including the Rabbits, who had always been somewhat privileged. Now, the challenge facing Rose is to survive in order to tell the world about the Rabbits and the experiments done on them.
First, if you plan to read Rose Under Fire, remember it is a companion book to Code Name Verity, not a sequel, though no less powerful, and it gives a nice sense of connectedness and continuity. You will meet a few familiar characters like Maddie, Julie's friend, her brother Jamie, and her mother, still caring for evacuees in Castle Craig, Scotland. But this is Rose Justice's story.
And it is quite a story. Where Code Name Verity is about friendship and loyalty, Rose Under Fire is about family and loyalty. Not the family that we are born into, but the kind of family that is formed by shared experience. Related by trauma, by living together in the worst of conditions, yet finding the strength to support each other, to care for each other and to help keep alive the hope that their stories won't die with them, but will be told to the world.
Rose Under Fire is a first person narrative, told by Rose through journal entries. A young, naive girl from Pennsylvania, as we read Rose's entries, we see her change as she experiences the realities of war firsthand. And Wein doesn't spare us. She gives us concentration camp life at its worst. But she counters the cruel, the dehumanizing, the sadistic acts that were inflicted on all the prisoners, with the sustenance of Rose's own beautifully sad heart-wrenching poetry, as well as the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, of Rose's wonderfully made up rescue stories and her remembered Girls Scout camp songs:
"I taught my companions Scout song and learned theirs; I produced more poetry in six months than I'd ever produced in my life, most of it in my head. And I was part of a family - Lisette, Irina, Karolina Rózȧ." (pg 323)I knew those camp songs, remember the sense of solidarity they produced as we sang them around a campfire (and I'm still friends with my old camp mates).
Though it has a slight connection to Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is a stand alone novel. You don't have to read one to understand the other. But like, CNV, it is rich in historical detail. Readers should be sure to read Wein's Afterword since she did make a few minor changes to keep the flow of Rose's story. But, it is also clear that Wein has really done her research on Ravensbrück Concentration Camp and should you wonder, and as she stresses in the Afterword, it really did exist and so did the Rabbits.
Wein writes novels that make it difficult to write an effective review without slipping in spoilers, so I will end with saying that Rose Under Fire is indeed a Five Star novel, as was CNV, If you like historical fiction, then this might be a novel for you (but don't forget the tissues).
This book is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an E-ARC from Netgalley