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Book Review – Rose Under Fire

June 3, 2013

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
release date September 10, 2013

Rose Justice is an air pilot for the Air Transport Auxiliary in England during World War II.  She is a poetry loving eighteen year old from America, and we meet her trying to compose a report for an accident in which a fellow pilot was killed.  She is feeling guilty about leaving Celia behind, but the other pilots mention that Celia may have tried to “tip” a flying bomb in order to detonate it.  Rose has never heard of this technique, but was intrigued by it.  Her final accident report was written in verse, in a beautiful leather bound notebook.

Rose is delighted when her uncle, who has a high position in the RAF, is able to get her assigned to flying him to France.  Women pilots are not usually allowed to fly to the European continent, so this is a big deal.  The flight to France is uneventful, and Rose is particularly delighted at seeing Paris from the air.  Rose gets her uncle to his base without too much event, but is not so lucky on her return trip to England.  When she sees a flying bomb, much like the one that may have caused fellow pilot Celia’s accident, Rose tries the wing-tipping maneuver that helps detonate the bombs.  She’s successful in turning the bomb away from Paris, but soon finds herself surrounded by German fighter planes who lead her back into German-held territory.


The pilots have to report her and send her to one of the prison camps, but the commander gives her a letter which should get her a skilled job and better treatment, and she eventually ends up in Ravensbrück prison camp.  Rose does indeed land a job in a factory with German civilians, but soon realizes they are making fuses for bombs to use against the Allies, and she stops working.  This act of rebellion gets Rose landed in a much worse situation, including a horrible beating.  Rose is overheard reciting a counting poem while enduring the beating, and is taken in by a group of Polish prisoners called the Rabbits, a group of women who were used as medical experiment subjects and suffer terrible effects from them.  These women, intrigued by Rose’s poems, help protect and feed her in exchange for her teaching them her poems.

Rose and her fellow prisoners endure starvation, brutal work details, dog attacks, and the ever-present threat of death, not knowing what new horrors each day will bring, or what small kindness they might see.  There are many questions surrounding the women:  will the Americans or Soviets liberate the camp?  Can the women escape without being seen?  Will they survive another day of brutality?  What will happen after the war for those who survive?

Elizabeth Wein has written another intriguing book about World War II.  Where Code Name Verity only alludes to the many horrors endured by prisoners, Rose Under Fire describes them in detail.  Her book includes a glossary of camp vocabulary, a bibliography, and Internet sources, which underscore how thoroughly this book was researched.  (Note:  the author’s website also includes background information that is very interesting.)  Wein’s use of poetry elevates the story to a new level, much as Rose’s own poetry helped the prisoners endure their daily life, and the poems are quite beautiful.  Recommended for grades 8 and up.

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