Thursday, March 3, 2011

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

Ever since she was a little girl, Becca's grandmother, Gemma, has told her the fairy tale of Briar Rose.  When she was dying, Gemma told Becca that the story was her story.  After her death, Becca and her family realizes how very little they knew about their mother and grandmother.  They didn't even know where she'd come from, for Gemma would never talk about it.  All Becca has is a box with some pictures and newspaper clippings.  Becca is determined to find out if her grandmother was really the fairy tale princess Briar Rose.

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.


  1. Wow...this sounds like such a powerful book. I would never have thought it was a novel about the Holocaust. And I'm a fan of Yolen's writing, too, so that really has my interest piqued. Now I'm curious, so it's going on the TBR list. Thank you for the review, Arianna.


  2. Thanks so much for all your wonderful comments!

  3. The fact that Yolen weaves the story of Briar Rose into Gemma's experiences makes the readers pay closer attention. It's a good story about how the holocaust spans generations!! I have only one cautionary comment; I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under 14.

  4. I would agree. I'd say 8th grade and up.


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