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Jane Yolen – Briar Rose

February 7, 2011

13. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (1992)

Length: 242 pages

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Started / Finished: 23 January 2011

Where did it come from? From Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? Marisa’s fault.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 02 January 2010.

We tell stories of
the past, but they don’t always
have fairy tale ends.

Summary: Becca’s grandmother was always an excellent storyteller, but there was only one story she’d tell – the fairy tale of Briar Rose. Just before she dies, she claims that she is the real Briar Rose from the story, and makes Becca promise to find out the truth of her history. The rest of her family dismisses her claims, but armed with only a small box of her grandmother’s papers that detail her immigration to the U.S. in 1944, Becca goes in search of the truth – a quest that will lead her to Poland, and to one of the unspeakable atrocities of history.

Review: With the exception of getting up to make myself a second cup of tea, I devoured this book in a single sitting. It pulled me in very quickly, and was nearly impossible to put down. It’s admittedly a quick read – YA-level prose, large font – but I felt like it was glued to my hands for the few hours it took me to read; I came out of it with a crick in my back because I was too absorbed in reading to even shift in my chair.

I love fairy tale re-tellings in general, and I particularly love versions that give a plausible real-life basis for the stories. This one didn’t quite provide an origin story – Sleeping Beauty was already hundreds of years old by the time WWII came around – but it was chillingly effective in the way it melded the fantasy elements of the story with unflinching horror of reality. I mean, I like my fairy tales dark, but wow.

That said, there were times in this book when I was left wanting more. It may have been that the adult protagonist or the seriousness of the story line led me to expect an adult novel rather than the YA it was, but there were times when things felt a little thin. The character development is not this book’s strong suit – even the protagonist is pretty two-dimensional, and her love-story is pretty weak, and felt like a late addition. I also thought the investigation was under-done, and it left me wanting more actual sleuthing; it seemed like Becca went to Europe and just accidentally happened to bump into the one and only person who could tell her the real story. Still, I get that these elements aren’t necessarily the stars of the show: the focus is on the fairy tale, and that part succeeds admirably. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Fans of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, as well as WWII fiction buffs should all definitely check this one out.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, Carol’s Notebook, Dreaming Out Loud, Maw Books Blog, Small World Reads, Words by Annie
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: “Gemma, tell your story again,” Shana begged, putting her arms around her grandmother and breathing in that special smell of talcum and lemon that seemed to belong only to her.

© 2011 Fyrefly’s Book Blog. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Fyrefly’s Book Blog or its RSS feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is being used without permission.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2011 7:12 am

    I read this book back when I took an Adolescent Lit course and I STILL remember how chilling it was. Also, I dig the updated cover. Mine isn’t really appealing.

    • February 7, 2011 10:00 am

      Christina – The actual cover of my book is quite a bit lighter, although with the same basic design… and I’m really embarrassed to say that I had this book on my pile for maybe six months before I realized that there was a face behind the barbed wire, instead of a random bunch of grey smudges.

  2. February 7, 2011 8:39 am

    I read this one about a year ago. It was clever and sad and I believe I shed a few tears.

    • February 7, 2011 10:01 am

      Amanda – I definitely got sniffly at at least one point as well.

  3. February 7, 2011 8:57 am

    Oh, my young adult and children’s literature class read this last semester, and I kind of regret not taking it earlier to experience Yolen, whom I hear wonderful things about.

    • February 7, 2011 10:02 am

      Omni – You should pick it up on your own anyways! Although it would definitely be interesting to discuss in a class setting, too.

  4. February 7, 2011 10:00 am

    Thanks for this review. I read this one years ago and remember being surprised by it. Yolen is one of my favorite authors, I’m adding “Briar Rose” to my reread list.

    • February 7, 2011 10:03 am

      Gavin – What else of hers should I read? I’ve read this and Devil’s Arithmetic (and her graphic novel Foiled), but Yolen’s *so* prolific that I don’t know where to go next.

      • February 8, 2011 10:00 am

        The first works I remember reading were “Sister Light, Sister Dark” and “White Jenna” and the short story “Sister Emily’s Lightship”( I love that title). We have folktale collections in the classroom, including “Not One Damsel In Distress” and “Mightier Than the Sword” and often read them aloud. Then there are the picture books, “Owl Moon” and “Honkers”. You are right, Yolen is incredibly prolific!

  5. February 7, 2011 12:50 pm

    I’m surprised I missed this when it came out. It sounds right up my alley.

    • February 9, 2011 10:35 am

      Amber – I’m a little surprised that I missed it too… since I was smack in the middle of the target audience when it was originally published.

  6. February 7, 2011 1:44 pm

    My sister loves fairy tale retellings! This might be a good idea for her birthday.

  7. February 7, 2011 2:35 pm

    Not one I’ve heard of, but it does sound like a good read :)

  8. February 7, 2011 4:00 pm

    Yeah, I agree that the way she uncovered the whole story seemed hard to believe. So much to love about it regardless, though. I’m very glad you enjoyed it!

    • February 9, 2011 10:38 am

      Nymeth – I think I missed the detective work mostly because I really like the whole “investigating historical documents in dusty archives” type of fiction.

  9. February 7, 2011 8:50 pm

    Fairy tale retellings are the best! I haven’t heard of too many that deal with the Briar Rose story though. I’ll keep an eye out for it.

    • February 9, 2011 10:39 am

      Ladytink – I’ve heard a bunch of other retellings of the Sleeping Beauty story, but they’re all still in a medieval fantasy world – this was the first I’d come across that was modern.

  10. February 8, 2011 11:27 am

    Yay! I am glad I suggested you read this on Twitter the other day and you enjoyed it. :)

    • February 9, 2011 10:40 am

      Kailana – Oh, I totally forgot to apportion your share of the credit/blame for this one! I’m sorry! It’s at least as much your fault as Marisa’s. :)

  11. February 8, 2011 3:07 pm

    I’ll have to check it out, I have a thing for fairy tales, original and twisted.

    • February 9, 2011 10:40 am

      Carrie – Aren’t fairy tale retellings great! This one’s definitely worth your time.

  12. February 8, 2011 7:06 pm

    I read this and The Devil’s Arithmetic in middle school, and I only remember the latter. Jane Yolen wrote back to me very kindly when I wrote to her as a kid, and I loved her SO MUCH at age thirteen, but her books haven’t aged well for me. Alas.

    • February 9, 2011 10:42 am

      Jenny – Her books do read as pretty young, but I’ve still enjoyed them. If you get a chance, you should check out her new graphic novel (Foiled), which is thoroughly charming and reads much more as modern YA than MG.

  13. February 11, 2011 4:42 pm

    Oh, I’m glad you enjoyed this one. I read it years ago and still remember it vividly.

    • February 17, 2011 9:20 am

      Darla – If I’d read this when it first came out, I can easily see it making a huge impression on me.

  14. February 13, 2011 9:24 pm

    I love stories that begin with talk of telling stories: what a great way to draw readers in! This book has been sitting neglected on my shelves for ages, but you’ve really made me want to nudge it up the pile now. (I second Gavin’s recommendation of White Jenna and Sister Light, Sister Dark.)

    • February 17, 2011 9:21 am

      BiP – Definitely nudge it up the pile! It’s really good, and it’s a fast read as well.

  15. Kaila permalink
    April 18, 2011 8:36 am

    I love this book!!! I had just finished Night by Elie Wiesel and my English teacher recommended this to me. I finished it soooo fast!! Truly remarkable piece of literature!!!


  1. The Literary Horizon: Briar Rose « The Literary Omnivore

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