Jane Yolen – Briar Rose
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.
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.
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