Thursday, March 3, 2011
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
If you're not familiar with the story of Briar Rose, it's the Sleeping Beauty story. So you know the deal: Princess is cursed at birth to die, but instead of dying she and all her kingdom fall asleep for 100 years until a prince wakes her up with a kiss. Roses grow around the kingdom, keeping everyone out until the 100 years are up with their thorns. In Becca's grandmother's story, only the princess wakes up, and the rest of the kingdom keeps sleeping forever
This is a story of family and the Holocaust. No one in the family knew that their grandmother had survived the Holocaust. She never spoke of it. Becca tracks her grandmother back to Poland, and the extermination camp Chelmno, where supposedly no one ever left alive. Through a lot of luck, Becca finds someone who can tell her the story of her grandmother, and finds that her grandmother's story is the story of Briar Rose as she told it.
There are many fictional accounts of the Holocaust. Some of them are very powerful, and others less so. This was powerful, and approached in a very different way. The story of Briar Rose was used as a framing device to look at the history. It looked at regular people, not heroes. There weren't really any heroes in this story, just regular sacred people trying to keep themselves alive. There's little background history of the Holocaust or what was happening in Germany. It's very focused on one single aspect. We see resistance fighters as frustrated, suspicious and struggling.
This book that could be read in multiple ways. There's a lot too it and a high school student could read it more deeply. It could also be appropriate for an older middle school student, to read at face value.